Slapstick Author:Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The novel is in the form of an autobiography of Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain. Dr. Swain tells us that he lives in the ruins of the Empire State Building with his pregnant granddaughter, Melody Oriole-2 von Peterswald, and her lover, Isadore Raspberry-19 Cohen. Dr. Swain is a hideous 7-foot-tall man whose ugliness, and that of his twin sister Eli... more »za, caused his parents to cut them off from modern society. The siblings came to realize that, when in close physical contact, they form a vastly powerful and creative intelligence. Through reading and philosophizing together, Wilbur and Eliza combated the feelings of loneliness and isolation that would otherwise have ruined their childhood.
Throughout the book, Wilbur claims that his sister Eliza is the more intelligent of the two, but that no one realizes it because she can't write. Wilbur and Eliza are like two halves of a brain, with Wilbur the left brain -- logical, rational, able to communicate -- and Eliza the right brain: creative, emotional, but unable to communicate effectively.
The siblings created, among other things, a plan to end loneliness in America through vast extended families. Under the plan, all citizens would be provided with new middle names, made of the name of a random natural object paired with a random number between 1 and 20. Everyone with the same name would be cousins, and everyone with the same name and number would be siblings.
Their parents and the staff of the mansion believe the children are retarded, and the children play this up when in the company of others, so as to not interfere with what they view as a perfect childhood. But after hearing their mother wish that they were normal, the children reveal their intelligence to their parents.
Eliza is still deemed retarded because she can't read or write, and is sent to a mental institution. Wilbur however is sent to a prep school and eventually goes to Harvard University and earns a doctorate.
Armed with the plan created with Eliza and the slogan, "Lonesome No More!," Dr. Swain wins election to the Presidency, and devotes the waning energies of the Federal government to the implementation of the plan. In the meantime, Western civilization is nearing collapse as oil runs out, and the Chinese are making vast leaps forward by miniaturizing themselves and training groups of hundreds to think as one. Eventually, the miniaturization proceeds to the point that they become so small that they cause a plague among those who accidentally inhale them, ultimately destroying Western civilization beyond repair. However, even as life as we know it collapses, Swain's middle name policy continues to unite the survivors. The American population constantly risk their time and their lives to selflessly help their fellow cousins and siblings, ensuring that people may live their lives "lonesome no more."
The novel has a typical Vonnegut pattern of short snippets often ending with a punchline of sorts. These are separated by the words "hi ho", which Dr. Swain describes as a sort of verbal hiccup that has developed in his old age.
Often surreal, the novel was written shortly after the death of the author's uncle. It seems to be a bizarre meditation on the nature of the closeness Vonnegut had with his sister Alice, who died of cancer in 1958. Written in an almost free associative style, the book lacks the structural intricacies of Vonnegut's earlier works.« less