Dead-Eye Dick is the 1982 novel from Kurt Vonnegut, which seems to be written at the time the book was actually written (1982.)
Like Breakfast of Champions and Cat’s Cradle, this novel is a mixture of humor, satire and irony amidst a backdrop of family, war, recipes and “peepholes” closing.
The narrator is Rudy Waltz, a man who at a young age becomes accustomed to knowing everything about guns, as well as cleaning and serving his parents in their Midland City home. Soon, he becomes known as “Dead-Eye Dick” for his accidental shooting of a pregnant woman. He writes this novel at the age of 50, from a Haiti hotel that he and his brother Felix partially own, with the opinion that he purposely entered this life to be an outcast, and that human beings don’t realize they’re still living in the Dark Ages. His only semi-accomplishment is having written the play Katmandu, based on the life of his father’s former friend, John Fortune.
This novel satirizes the life of Hitler, books like John Milton’s Paradise Lost (and the idea of Shangri-La,) doctors and pharmaceuticals, and the overall intent of the government to control its people. Specifically, in between telling the stories of several characters in Midland City, the narrator tells of how the people of Midland City mysteriously vanished after a neutron bomb exploded, although it oddly left behind all building structures in tact. The narrator speculates that the U.S. government bombed its own city so as to not start a World War Three in other nations, and since no one in Midland City would be missed after the bomb exploded.
Vonnegut chose to parallel many of this novel’s characters with that of Breakfast of Champions, as well as using Midland City as a backdrop. Characters paralleled in both novels include the Maritimo brothers, Dwayne Hoover, Celia Hoover, Bunny Hoover, Julian Pekfo (probably related to Francine Pekfo,) George Hickman Bannister, Mary Hoobler (probably related to Wayne Hoobler,) and even the writer of Breakfast of Champions (presumably Vonnegut himself,) described on page 198 as a man with “mirrored lenses.” It also mentions Hoover’s Pontiac dealership and Holiday Inn, as well as Sugar Creek, Sacred Miracle Cave, Barrytron Limited and the Mildred B. Arts Center. Oddly, Felix in this novel seems to have no relation with the Felix (father of the atom bomb) in Cat’s Cradle, although I doubt using this same name was an accident.
Specifically, this novel gets into the details of Celia Hoover’s life and eventual suicide, as well as what happens to Midland City in time. Unlike Breakfast of Champions where the arts ceremony Kilgore Trout was attending supposedly never occurred, Dead-Eye Dick explains that it did occur, only one week later the city was bombed, as mentioned previously.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel is when Vonnegut describes life as a story, which for some people ends before death, with only a boring epilogue to follow.
Overall, Dead-Eye Dick is a good read, although for Vonnegut fans it’s almost dizzying trying to connect the dots of why he chose to overlap certain characters from other novels. Still, while other novels (written in decades previous,) seem to use dark humor and fantasy to portray dark subject matters, Dead-Eye Dick somehow stands out as bleak and depressing in comparison… perhaps an accurate reflection of American life as life goes on.