Jailbird takes us into a fractured and comic, pure Vonnegut world of high crimes and misdemeanors in government—and in the heart. This wry tale follows bumbling bureaucrat Walter F. Starbuck from Harvard to the Nixon White House to the penitentiary as Watergate’s least known co-conspirator. But the humor turns dark when Vonnegut shines his spotlight on the cold hearts and calculated greed of the mighty, giving a razor-sharp edge to an unforgettable portrait of power and politics in our times.
Not once in Jailbird does Mr. Vonnegut nod off, go vague. His people bite into their lives. Kindnesses, as inexplicable as history, are collected, like saving remnants. New York, with catacombs under Grand Central Terminal and harps on top of the Chrysler Building, is wonderfully evoked. The prose has sinew. Mr. Nixon's "unhappy little smile," for instance "looked to me like a rosebud that had just been smashed by a hammer." Or: "There was a withered old man...hunched over his food, hiding it with his arms. Sarah whispered that he ate as though his meal were a royal flush."