Books: Raisin d'Etre

WAMPETERS, FOMA & GRANFALLOONS

by KURT VONNEGUT JR.

285 pages. Delacorte/Seymour

Lawrence. $8.95.

The most distinctive voice in recent American fiction is that of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the author of seven likable but sometimes hopelessly tacky novels and a couple of unsuccessful plays. In this collection of commencement speeches, book reviews and other shavings from under a busy writer's workbench, his tone has the usual rarefied diffusion of tiredness and rue. It may be time to ask why this tone is so attractive.

Tiredness is part of the answer. When Vonnegut writes, it is...