Get a Hartford Courant subscription for less than 29 cents per day

Henry Holt

Vonnegut biography fails on several counts

Vonnegut biography fails on several counts

It's dangerous to begin a biography with what amounts to an advertisement for oneself. "Someone else could cobble together a so-so version of your life just by mining what's stored in library boxes and electronic files," Charles J. Shields writes in the introduction to "And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life," quoting a note he sent his then-potential-subject in summer 2006. "But I'm the guy for the job — for doing it right, that is."

What we have here is the literary equivalent of a come-on. But it also raises elusive questions, such as: What is the connection between biographer and subject? And: Who is all this really about? To his credit,...