In early 1980, our new high school opened in Bedford, Nova Scotia. I was in the middle of Grade XI and we had been doing split shifts with the students of Sackville High for a year and a half. The school was big by our standards – three floors. The classrooms featured lots of pastel and some even had round tables instead of desks. The library was nothing more than metal shelves and echoes for the first few months, and then a few books started arriving. I can still remember the short line of newly-purchased paperbacks: a few Saul Bellows (he was born in Montreal but lived his entire adult life in the States, but he had recently won the Nobel Prize, so he still sort of qualified, in those provincial times, as a Canadian writer); Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (there had been a miniseries of that one on PBS); and Slapstick, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut. I had heard the name, usually with “Jr” a the end, and such was my ignorance at 17 that I thought this Kurt Vonnegut, without the Jr, was the father of Kurt Vonnegut, with the Jr. I thought they must have been a father-son writing team. Imagine that.
I borrowed Slapstick, and read it all, on my top bunk, on a rainy spring evening. It was the first book I’d ever read in which the author was obviously writing for adults, but, unlike the very grown-up old books on the curriculum, was still speaking directly to me. I don’t even know if I’d find it funny now, but I still remember the real thrill I had then of turning a page to see what Vonnegut would say (or draw) next. I had always read a lot before, but this was real reading, and I wanted more. And so, a late bloomer began making up for lost time. Mind you, I’m still catching up, but that’s what I remembered last week, when I heard that Vonnegut had died: I guess I owe him something.