(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As often happens in Vonnegut's novels, there is really only one character (in this case, Rudy Waltz), a narrative voice who ranges back and forth over a given period (his life and those of his parents), describing the other characters, whom the reader rarely confronts directly. Rudy is a failure as a playwright, but he is a good cook, and he spices his narrative with recipes. Rudy settles down to a career as a pharmacist, but he is interrupted at his duties almost nightly by callers asking if he is Deadeye Dick, who accidentally shot a pregnant woman, so he is not allowed to forget his scapegoat fate. Rudy is living in Haiti when he begins to tell his story.

The rest of Rudy's family is as strange as Vonnegut's characters usually are. His father supported his friend Hitler before World War II and is condemned for this action once hostilities occur; his mother is done in by her own mantelpiece, and brother Felix eventually becomes head of the National Broadcasting Company but forsakes it all to return to Midland City. Other characters include Fred T. Barry, owner of Barrytron, the largest employer in Midland City, but not a happy man, and Celia Hoover, whom Rudy loves but with whom he can never establish a relationship. She commits suicide by swallowing Drano.

Police Chief Francis X. Morissey is a person whose life may be compared to that of Rudy. When Rudy fires his fatal shot, Morissey at first wants to hush up the fact of the child's...

(The entire section is 371 words.)