Timequake (1997) exists in two conjoined versions (“Timequake One”/”Timequake Two”) and in meta-fictional mode is a novel about a novel, composed in short, arbitrary chapters and using its large cast of characters and disoriented chronology to mimic the “timequake” which is its subject. Some cosmic upheaval has hurled the entire population a decade back where, in full consciousness (but helplessly entrapped) everyone’s pitiable and embarrassing mistakes are helplessly enacted again.
By this stage of his life--he was 72 the year the novel was published--Vonnegut was still wearing his luminescent bells and Harlequin’s cape, but these had become dusty and the cape no longer fitted. Vonnegut’s exasperation and sense of futility could no longer be concealed or shaped, and this novel is a laboratory of technique (deliberately) gone wrong, a study of breakdown.
Vonnegut had never shown much hope in his work for human destiny or occupation; the naive optimism of Eliot Rosewater in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater had in the damaged veteran Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse-Five become a naive fantasy of escape to a sexual heaven. In the nihilism of Timequake, the only escape is re-enactment, but re-enactment has lost hope and force.
This is no Groundhog Day in which Vonnegut traps his various refugees (many escaped from his earlier works) but a hell of lost possibility. The temporal timequake of the title is the actual spiritual fracture of the 20th century, and in his 73rd year Vonnegut envisions no hope, not even the hollow diversions of Slapstick. Vonnegut’s imaginative journey, closely tracked by his work, is one of the most intriguing for any American writer of the twentieth century.