“Look at the Birdie” is the sort of quirky collection that feels more like the fulfillment of a curiosity than it does a meaningful and deliberate “collection.” It feels the same as an ultimate box set of Nirvana or Pearl Jam or even Rolling Stones material: some really good stuff, some polished songs, and then CDs upon CDs upon CDs of demos and B-sides and scratchy recordings that were never meant to see the light of day, that were only tossed together because there was a marketing exec who realized that there would be someone who could be convinced to buy it all.
We can recognize the talent in “Look at the Birdie,” but our overall opinion of the material is based entirely upon our love for Vonnegut’s really good stuff that we read years earlier. This is a book that we enjoy only because we enjoy “Cat’s Cradle” and “Welcome to the Monkeyhouse,” and we want–we really really want–new stories from that same trusted voice…or, at the very least, we want additional insight into how that voice developed. It’s a curiosity piece, just like those demo CDs, not a collection that can truly be enjoyed unless we’ve already fallen in love with the writer from his other work.
Obviously, of course, this is a book that gathers fourteen “previously unpublished short stories,” and obviously, it was published after Vonnegut’s death…so you can’t hold Vonnegut responsible for any of the book’s shortcomings. I mean, the guy had no real control here, right?
But still, when a publisher goes to the great trouble of collecting an author’s unpublished work and selling it in an attractive *commercial* hardcover, I feel it’s necessary to question whether this was an effort that truly builds the author’s legacy/library, or whether this was a cash-in. The answer? “Look at the Birdie” is fun enough, polished enough, to make us occasionally smile…but as part of the Vonnegut library, it really only warrants mention as the “previously unpublished work.” And while I loved the additional Vonnegut artwork included throughout, I thought the overall presentation of the book was fairly hollow; the introduction was pointless and gave little insight, a real let-down. In short, I just expected more of a book with such commercial aspirations. Had this been a scholarly volume marketed to libraries, then no complaints…but for the general reading public? Come on, Delacorte Press. Give me something more.