Kurt Vonnegut’s son takes exception to new biography

Critics have been generally kind to Charles Shields’s biography of Kurt Vonnegut, praising the book for exposing a darker side of the “Slaughterhouse-Five’’ author. (He’s portrayed as bitter, nasty, and cruel, especially to his two wives and children.) Perhaps not surprisingly, this portrayal isn’t sitting well with Vonnegut’s family. Mark Vonnegut, a Milton pediatrician and son of the celebrated author, says “And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life’’ doesn’t come close to capturing his dad. In an email this week to the web site io9.com, the younger Vonnegut explained. “Shields had to ignore most of what I and other people who knew Kurt and most of what he read in the letters to come up with these shocking truths about a beloved writer,’’ he wrote. “Why don’t people employ a modicum of critical thinking before buying into the truth of a book whose existence is completely and utterly dependent on a picture that Shields would have made up out of whole cloth if he had to. Not a perfect man or father and I’ll grant you two failed marriages.’’ There’s much in the book that upsets the kin of the “Cat’s Cradle’’ author, including the claim that Vonnegut invested in Dow Chemical, the producer of the deadly napalm used in Vietnam. “Pure (expletive),’’ said Mark Vonnegut when we called him today. “It’s too good a sound bite to be true. Kurt couldn’t be the person portrayed by Shields and still write what he wrote and have the friends he had.’’ Mark Vonnegut, who told us he hasn’t read Shields’s book, said he feels “horrible’’ that people might form opinions about his old man based on it. “But,’’ he said with sigh, “this will pass.’’

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