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New book examines Vonnegut’s Indiana and Maxinkuckee life

February 15, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut’s yearbook photo from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis "shows him looking beyond us," says author Failey. "He spoofs the whole yearbook process by giving himself a fake middle name in his caption: Snarfield.

Kurt Vonnegut and his family have always been interesting, even fascinating, to members of the Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee communities. The Culver Antiquarian Society interviewed a group of relatives and friends of the Vonneguts and thoroughly researched the family. They placed materials on the library site that have been called by Vonnegut researchers the best collection of Vonnegut family records in the state.
Now a new book partly researched in that collection, written by Kurt Vonnegut’s lifetime best friend Majie Failey, utilizes the records here in Culver but also tells personal stories of Kurt Vonnegut’s life at, and love of, the lake, which he called the most beautiful lake in the nation from the author’s own memory and collection of her friend.
"We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek: The Young Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis and Beyond" by Majie Failey has just been released by Hawthorne Publishing, owned and run by long-time lake resident Arthur Baxter and his wife Nancy. Marizetta Kenney aided Nancy Baxter, the editor who helped Majie Failey prepare the book, to find relevant records of the cottages of Clemens and Bernard Vonnegut. Photos from the Antiquarian Society collection are in the book.
Also included are Vonnegut’s comments to his friends about the magic of the lake, his family’s love of relaxing and using their own made-up Indiana language to communicate with each other, the author’s journeys around East Shore Lane on his own as a child, and his belief that it set the patterns for his sense of the meaning of home as he headed eagerly back to the Bernard Vonnegut cottage.
Most interesting are the stories never before told of the weekends high-school age Kurt spent with his friends at cottages around the lake. Majie Failey tells of a visit the Shortridge High Owls Club and some of their girlfriends spent with parents at a cottage and a college visit. She reconstructs the romance of a pre-war weekend at the lake for Kurt, who fell in love Kurt Vonnegut and his family have always been interesting, even fascinating, to members of the Culver and Lake Maxincuckee communities. The Culver Antiquarian Society interviewed a group of relatives and friends of the Vonneguts and thoroughly researched the family. They placed materials on the library site that have been called by Vonnegut researchers the best collection of Vonnegut family records in the state.
Kurt stayed an active and kind friend to both the boys and girls with whom he had gone to high school as they grew older. One little-known letter from Vonnegut was found in the Culver collection: a reply to high school gal friend Mary Jo Albright Bradley. Mary Jo was working to help document Culver’s lake history and wrote to Kurt asking for input on the Vonnegut cottages.
He details cottage history and then adds:
"The B. Vonnegut Cottage was in my time owned by my grandfather’s three children, Kurt, Sr, Irma Lindener and Alex. They sold it to the Concert Master of the Indianapolis Symphony, whose name I’ve forgotten, right after World War II. Jane and I honeymooned there, and we were the last Vonneguts to have anything to do with it. . . As for famous people having spent time there, you couldn’t prove it by me. I never saw one."

Failey’s book is available from the Hawthornepub.com website, from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. It is a 175 page softbound, $18, and hardcover at $25. Information and ordering also at Hawthorne Publishing in Carmel 317-867-5183.

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