Basic Training, by Kurt Vonnegut
I don't generally read literature, for the simple reason that most of it, while perhaps being beautifully written and plotted and with exquisite characterisation - despite all that, I just don't enjoy it. And given that I read for enjoyment it's understandable that I'm not going to spend my money and - more importantly - my time on it. I get my kicks mostly from low-brow "genre" fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, crime and so on. As some clever chap said, literary fiction is the fiction of introspection and changing the self, genre fiction is the fiction of doing and of changing the world. I like to think that it only says good things about me that I want to change the world to fit me instead of changing myself to conform to the world, and that I enjoy tales of others changing the world.
So why did I buy this? First, it's by Vonnegut. He's one of those few literary writers who I'm confident of buying because I'm already familiar with and enjoy his writing. There are few other literary writers whose work I'd buy sight-unseen, and Vonnegut veers rather towards the fiction of doing in his literature!
And then it was also cheap, immediately available, and I wanted something to read right now, and could have it delivered to my Kindle in moments.
It's a short tale - equivalent to about 80 pages in print - of a lad sent to live with a stern disciplinarian relative, his rebellion, punishment, and of his forgiveness when he is willing to give up everything even for someone who he dislikes. Underlying this is the realisation that eventually dawns that when an adult controls and disciplines a child it isn't necessarily arbitrary and isn't done to mould the child into a clone of the adult, but is done from love and a desire to help the child learn. It's a bit slow to start, especially if, like me, your diet is mostly the "fiction of doing", but it's worth persevering with. You'll polish it off quickly and enjoy almost every minute of it.
So why only four stars? It grieves me that it is restricted to Kindle users only. I hope that one day it'll appear on paper, either on its own or in an anthology.