Deadeye Dick

( 39 )

Overview

Deadeye Dick is Kurt Vonnegut’s funny, chillingly satirical look at the death of innocence. Amid a true Vonnegutian host of horrors—a double murder, a fatal dose of radioactivity, a decapitation, an annihilation of a city by a neutron bomb—Rudy Waltz, aka Deadeye Dick, takes us along on a zany search for absolution and happiness. Here is a tale of crime and punishment that makes us rethink what we believe . . . and who we say we are.

A funny, chillingly satirical ...

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Deadeye Dick

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Overview

Deadeye Dick is Kurt Vonnegut’s funny, chillingly satirical look at the death of innocence. Amid a true Vonnegutian host of horrors—a double murder, a fatal dose of radioactivity, a decapitation, an annihilation of a city by a neutron bomb—Rudy Waltz, aka Deadeye Dick, takes us along on a zany search for absolution and happiness. Here is a tale of crime and punishment that makes us rethink what we believe . . . and who we say we are.

A funny, chillingly satirical look at the death of innocence. Rudy Waltz, a.k.a. Deadeye Dick, takes readers on a zany search for absolution and happiness in this tale of crime and punishment that makes us rethink what we believe and who we say we are. "Vonnegut is . . . a zany but moral mad scientist."--Time. Reissue.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 
“A moving fable . . . Vonnegut, sweet cynic and ugly duckling, continues to write gentle swan songs for our uncivil society.”—Playboy 
 
“The master at his quirky, provocative best.”—Cosmopolitan
 
“Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer . . . a zany but moral mad scientist.”—Time
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385334174
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 148,876
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was a master of contemporary American literature. His black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America's attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as "a true artist" with Cat's Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, "one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Biography

Born in 1922, Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His architect father suffered great financial setbacks during the Depression and was unemployed for long stretches of time. His mother suffered from mental illness and eventually committed suicide in 1944, a trauma that haunted Vonnegut all his life. He attended Cornell in the early 1940s, but quit in order to enlist in the Army during WWII.

Vonnegut was shipped to Europe, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was captured behind enemy lines and incarcerated in a German prison camp. As a POW, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces, an event of devastating magnitude that left an indelible impression on the young soldier.

After the war, Vonnegut returned home and married his high school sweetheart. In addition to two daughters and a son of their own, he and his first wife adopted three children orphaned in 1958 by the death of Vonnegut's sister Alice. (He and his second wife adopted another daughter.) The family lived in Chicago and Schenectady before settling in Cape Cod, where Vonnegut began to concentrate seriously on his writing. His first novel, the darkly dystopian Player Piano, was published in 1952 and met with moderate success. Three additional novels followed (including the critically acclaimed Cat's Cradle), but it was not until the publication of 1969's Slaughterhouse Five that Vonnegut achieved true literary stardom. Based on the author's wartime experiences in Dresden, the novel resonated powerfully in the social upheaval of the Vietnam era.

Although he is best known for his novels (a genre-blending mix of social satire, science fiction, surrealism, and black comedy), Vonnegut also wrote short fiction, essays, and plays (the best known of which was Happy Birthday, Wanda June). In addition, he was a talented graphic artist who illustrated many of his books and exhibited sporadically during his literary career. He died on April 11, 2007, after suffering irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Kurt Vonnegut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 11, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      Indianapolis, Indiana
    1. Date of Death:
      April 11, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life.

I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings. Nothing they said could be appealed. They said I was a boy named Rudolph Waltz, and that was that. They said the year was 1932, and that was that. They said I was in Midland City, Ohio, and that was that.

They never shut up. Year after year they piled detail upon detail. They do it still. You know what they say now? They say the year is 1982, and that I am fifty years old.

Blah blah blah.

My father was Otto Waltz, whose peephole opened in 1892, and he was told, among other things, that he was the heir to a fortune earned principally by a quack medicine known as "Saint Elmo's Remedy." It was grain alcohol dyed purple, flavored with cloves and sarsaparilla root, and laced with opium and cocaine. As the joke goes: It was absolutely harmless unless discontinued.

He, too, was a Midland City native. He was an only child, and his mother, on the basis of almost no evidence whatsoever, concluded that he could be another Leonardo da Vinci. She had a studio built for him on a loft of the carriage house behind the family mansion when he was only ten years old, and she hired a rapscallion German cabinetmaker, who had studied art in Berlin in his youth, to give Father drawing and painting lessons on weekends and after school.

It was a sweet racket for both teacher and pupil. The teacher's name was August Gunther, and his peephole must have opened in Germany around 1850. Teaching paid as well as cabinetmaking, and, unlike cabinetmaking, allowed him to be as drunk as he pleased.

After Father's voice changed, moreover, Gunther could take him on overnight visits by rail to Indianapolis and Cincinnati and Louisville and Cleveland and so on, ostensibly to visit galleries and painters' studios. The two of them also managed to get drunk, and to become darlings of the fanciest whorehouses in the Middle West.

Was either one of them about to acknowledge that Father couldn't paint or draw for sour apples?

Who else was there to detect the fraud? Nobody. There wasn't anybody else in Midland City who cared enough about art to notice if Father was gifted or not. He might as well have been a scholar of Sanskrit, as far as the rest of the town was concerned.

Midland City wasn't a Vienna or a Paris. It wasn't even a St. Louis or a Detroit. It was a Bucyrus. It was a Kokomo.

Gunther's treachery was discovered, but too late. He and Father were arrested in Chicago after doing considerable property damage in a whorehouse there, and Father was found to have gonorrhea, and so on. But Father was by then a fully committed, eighteen-year-old good-time Charley.

Gunther was denounced and fired and blacklisted. Grandfather and Grandmother Waltz were tremendously influential citizens, thanks to Saint Elmo's Remedy. They spread the word that nobody of quality in Midland City was ever to hire Gunther for cabinetwork or any other sort of work—ever again.

Father was sent to relatives in Vienna, to have his gonorrhea treated and to enroll in the world-famous Academy of Fine Arts. While he was on the high seas, in a first-class cabin aboard the Lusitania, his parents' mansion burned down. It was widely suspected that the showplace was torched by August Gunther, but no proof was found.

Father's parents, rather than rebuilt, took up residence in their thousand-acre farm out near Shepherdstown—leaving behind the carriage house and a cellar hole.

This was in 1910—four years before the outbreak of the First World War.

So Father presented himself at the Academy of Fine Arts with a portfolio of pictures he had created in Midland City. I myself have examined some of the artwork of his youth, which Mother used to moon over after he died. He was good at cross-hatching and shading a drapery, and August Gunther must have been capable in those areas, too. But with few exceptions, everything Father depicted wound up looking as though it were made of cement—a cement woman in a cement dress, walking a cement dog, a herd of cement cattle, a cement bowl of cement fruit, set before a window with cement curtains, and so on.

He was no good at catching likenesses, either. He showed the Academy several portraits of his mother, and I have no idea what she looked like. Her peephole closed long before mine opened. But I do know that no two of Father's portraits of her resemble each other in the least.

Father was told to come back to the Academy in two weeks, at which time they would tell him whether they would take him in or not.

He was in rags at the time, with a piece of rope for a belt, and with patched trousers and so on—although he was receiving an enormous allowance from home. Vienna was then the capital of a great empire, and there were so many elaborate uniforms and exotic costumes, and so much wine and music that it seemed to Father to be a fancy dress ball. So he decided to come to the party as a starving artist. What fun!

And he must have been very good-looking then, for he was, in my opinion, the best-looking man in Midland City when I got to know him a quarter of a century later. He was slender and erect to the end. He was six feet tall. His eyes were blue. He had curly golden hair, and he had lost almost none of it when his peephole closed, when he was allowed to stop being Otto Waltz, when he became just another wisp of undifferentiated nothingness again.

So he came back in two weeks, and a professor handed him back his portfolio, saying that his work was ludicrous. And there was another young man in rags there, and he, too, had his portfolio returned with scorn.

His name was Adolf Hitler. He was a native Austrian. He had come from Linz.

And Father was so mad at the professor that he got his revenge right then and there. He asked to see some of Hitler's work, with the professor looking on. He picked a picture at random, and he said it was a brilliant piece of work, and he bought it from Hitler for more cash on the spot than the professor, probably, could earn in a month or more.

Only an hour before, Hitler had sold his overcoat so that he could get a little something to eat, even though winter was coming on. So there is a chance that, if it weren't for my father, Hitler might have died of pneumonia or malnutrition in 1910.

Father and Hitler paired off for a while, as people will—comforting and amusing each other, jeering at the art establishment which had rejected them, and so on. I know they took several long walking trips, just the two of them. I learned of their good times together from Mother. When I was old enough to be curious about Father's past, World War Two was about to break out, and Father had developed lockjaw as far as his friendship with Hitler was concerned.

Think of that: My father could have strangled the worst monster of the century, or simply let him starve or freeze to death. But he became his bosom buddy instead.

That is my principal objection to life, I think: It is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.

The painting Father bought from Hitler was a watercolor which is now generally acknowledged as having been the best thing the monster ever did as a painter, and it hung for many years over my parents' bed in Midland City, Ohio. Its title was: "The Minorite Church of Vienna."

Chapter Two

Father was so well received in Vienna, known to one and all as an American millionaire disguised as a ragged genius, that he roistered there for nearly four years. When the First World War broke out in August of 1914, he imagined that the fancy dress ball was to become a fancy dress picnic, that the party was to be moved out into the countryside. He was so happy, so naive, so self-enchanted, that he asked influential friends if they couldn't get him a commission in the Hungarian Life Guard, whose officers' uniforms included a panther skin.

He adored that panther skin.

He was summoned by the American ambassador to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Henry Clowes, who was a Cleveland man and an acquaintance of Father's parents. Father was then twenty-two years old. Clowes told Father that he would lose his American citizenship if he joined a foreign army, and that he had made inquiries about Father, and had learned that Father was not the painter he pretended to be, and that Father had been spending money like a drunken sailor, and that he had written to Father's parents, telling them that their son had lost all touch with reality, and that it was time Father was summoned home and given some honest work to do.

"What if I refuse?" said Father.

"Your parents have agreed to stop your allowance," said Clowes.

So Father went home.

I do not believe he would have stayed in Midland City, if it weren't for what remained of his childhood home, which was its fanciful carriage house. It was hexagonal. It was stone. It had a conical slate roof. It had a naked skeleton inside of noble oak beams. It was a little piece of Europe in southwestern Ohio. It was a present from my great-grandfather Waltz to his homesick wife from Hamburg. It was a stone-by-stone replica of a structure in an illustration in her favorite book of German fairy tales.

It still stands.

I once showed it to an art historian from Ohio University, which is in Athens, Ohio. He said that the original might have been a medieval granary built on the ruins of a Roman watchtower from the time of Julius Caesar. Caesar was murdered two thousand years ago.

Think of that.

I do not think my father was entirely ungifted as an artist. Like his friend Hitler, he had a flair for romantic architecture. And he set about transforming the carriage house into a painter's studio fit for the reincarnated Leonardo da Vinci his doting mother still believed him to be.

Father's mother was as crazy as a bedbug, my own mother said.

I sometimes think that I would have had a very different sort of soul, if I had grown up in an ordinary little American house—if our home had not been vast.

Father got rid of all the horse-drawn vehicles in the carriage house—a sleigh, a buckboard, a surrey, a phaeton, a brougham, and who-knows-what-all? Then he had ten horse stalls and a tack room ripped out. This gave him for his private enjoyment more uninterrupted floor-space beneath a far higher ceiling than was afforded by any house of worship or public building in the Midland City of that time.

Was it big enough for a basketball game? A basketball court is ninety-four feet long and fifty feet wide. My childhood home was only eighty feet in diameter. So, no—it lacked fourteen feet of being big enough for a basketball game.

There were two pairs of enormous doors in the carriage house, wide enough to admit a carriage and a team of horses. One pair faced north, one pair faced south. Father had his workmen take down the northern pair, which has old mentor, August Gunther, made into two tables, a dining table and a table on which Father's paints and brushes and palette knives and charcoal sticks and so on were to be displayed.

The doorway was then filled with what remains the largest window in the city, admitting copious quantities of that balm for all great painters, northern light.

It was before this window that Father's easel stood.

Yes, he had been reunited with the disreputable August Gunther, who must have been in his middle sixties then. Old Gunther had only one child, a daughter named Grace, so Father was like a son to him. A more suitable son for Gunther would be hard to imagine.

Mother was just a little girl then, and living in a mansion next door. She was terrified of old Gunther. She told me one time that all nice little girls were supposed to run away from him. Right up until the time Mother died, she cringed if August Gunther was mentioned. He was a hobgoblin to her. He was the bogeyman.

As for the pair of great doors facing south: Father had them bolted shut and padlocked, and the workmen caulked the cracks between and around them, to keep out the wind. And then August Gunther cut a front door into one of them. That was the entrance to Father's studio, what would later be my childhood home.

A hexagonal loft encircled and overhung the great chamber. This was partitioned off into bedrooms and bathrooms and a small library.

Above that was an attic under the conical slate roof. Father had no immediate use for the attic, so it was left in its primitive condition.

It was all so impractical—which I guess was the whole idea.

Father was so elated by the vastness of the ground floor, which was paved with cobblestones laid in sand, that he considered putting the kitchen up on a loft. But that would have put the servants and all their hustle and bustle and cooking smells up among the bedrooms. There was no basement to put them in.

So he reluctantly put the kitchen on the ground floor, tucked under a loft and partitioned off with old boards. It was cramped and stuffy. I would love it. I would feel so safe and cozy in there.

Many people found our house spooky, and the attic in fact was full of evil when I was born. It housed a collection of more than three hundred antique and modern firearms. Father had bought them during his and Mother's six-month honeymoon in Europe in 1922. Father thought them beautiful, but they might as well have been copperheads and rattlesnakes.

They were murder.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 1, 2011

    A great read

    I found Vonnegut's writing style to be very intriguing in Deadeye Dick. The dark theme of life having no purpose is balanced with humor, satire, and imagination, making the book both dark and light. A novel with an idea of life having no purpose would usually be followed by despair and depression, but Vonnegut's humorous approach brings a smile to the reader. This writing style of Vonnegut's is what makes the book hard to put down. It is not apparent who Vonnegut is intending to reach, but maybe he is not trying to target a specific group of people, and rather entertain those whose hands the book falls upon. The most interesting point in the book is also the most important, when the main character Rudy Waltz randomly fires one of his father's guns over the town and kills someone. The title is a perfect fit, because "Deadeye Dick" is the nickname Rudy received after the incident, and the events that follow throughout the novel are centered on it. If you are a fan of Vonnegut's writing, then this is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2011

    Good fast read

    I found this book to be very enjoyable. Light and dark at the same time.

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  • Posted November 11, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Just As Good The Second Time Around

    While recovering from illness this week, I happened upon a paperback at my girlfriend's house I had read many a moon ago. Although it's true that Vonnegut often sacrifices character development in favor of moral posturing, his knack for black humor remains unsurpassed. The genius of his writing is to speak from the perspective of a visiting space alien: every absurdity of the human existence is catalogued in a jovial, non-judgemental fashion. Whatever we glumly taken for granted and accept as the way of the world, Vonnegut reminds us over and over again IT ONLY HAS TO BE THAT WAY IF YOU CONTINUE TO ALLOW IT OF YOUR OWN FREE WILL. Wondrous.

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  • Posted November 9, 2008

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    I Also Recommend:

    READ THIS ONE

    I loved this. One of my favorites. It's more intimate than most Vonnegut, in that it follows a whole family. One I hadn't heard much about, but it's classic Vonnegut.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2000

    Neuters live forever

    This is my favorite Vonnegut novel. The socially and sexually inept (such as myself) will identify with accidental murderer 'Deadeye Dick' who later in life becomes a pharmicist. He is also a member of the 'Neuters,' invisible people who represent the largest population of NYC, possibly even larger than the gay community.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2000

    Vonnegut Is King

    Deadeye Dick is an amazing tale about a young man named Rudy Waltz who stumbles over amazing circumstances and spends the rest of his life being haunted by what has taken place in his past. Normally, this would sound like a book that saddens and despairs, but Vonnegut's humorous approach brings a smile to the reader's lips, even as a normally tragic circumstance takes place. As a self-proclaimed Vonnegut scholar and a current veteran of seventeen of his homages to the human condition, I have to say this ranks right up there.

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