Welcome to The Monkey House
By Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Delacorte Press, 1968
In this little collection of short stories Vonnegut tries to show that it is possible for a people to develop an elaborate technology while remaining basically stupid, corrupt, or both. Technology, in fact, often seems to strike us dumb—and I take that to be one of the central theses of Vonnegut’s book, as well as of McLuhanism. When Vonnegut anthropomorphizes a computer, as in “Epicac” (1950), he suggests that technology sometimes develops according to its own whims, its own laws, its own somewhat obscure logic, and in the end we who consume technology may find ourselves wishing to follow the heroes of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” to jail, preferably to be placed in solitary confinement.
The smog-breathing inhabitants of Los Angeles—if you asked them—would say that they ultimately will prevail in their struggle against dirty air by finding scientific means of controlling auto-exhaust emissions, an approach that seems destined to fail simply by virtue of the fact that automobiles proliferate at a rate that vastly exceeds our ability to control their output of poison. If technology were able to halve smog-producing emissions—itself an extraordinary achievement—while the auto population continues doubling every seven years or so, little progress would be made. Technology, however, has already been moving us toward alternative solutions: air-conditioned cars, gas masks, and, perhaps most important of all, the controlled environment concept in architecture—no windows. I predict that by 1984 at the latest, most Angelenos…
Hunger and Hallelujahs
by Philip Elliott
Fiction, Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018
$10.00 (Canadian), 22 pages
The unnamed Irish girl at the heart of the nine flash fictions that make up Philip Elliott’s prizewinning chapbook, Hunger and Hallelujahs, is, as the title suggests, on a quasi-religious quest of self-discovery as she wanders across the United States, a junkie mendicant in search of her soul. In some ways she seems like one of the nihilistic 1980’s/1990’s party girls that Jay McInerney chronicled in fiction, only she’s grittier, more self-reliant, more on a mission. “We’re all just waiting for our moment to redeem ourselves,” she observes at the conclusion of “Cocaine and Karaoke,” after she and another random character dump the dead body of a person they’d been trying to rush to a hospital.
Each of the nine stories is like a flashbulb of illumination, in the manner of flash fiction, but the series also forms a very loose narrative. When we first meet the protagonist, she is hitchhiking in an Alabama rainstorm, having been dumped by her previous ride for refusing to give the driver a blowjob. “Saviours don’t come out of the rain,” she observes, to start the story, our first introduction to her. She is picked up by a Bible-thumping ex-con who is just out of prison, going home to his true love, a woman called Darlene. We learn that her vague plan is to go out to Hollywood and become a star, but mainly she is driven by…