In “Custom-Made Bride”, Kurt Vonnegut explores the dark side of Pygmalion by telling the story of Otto Krummbein, a fashionable inventor, and his wife, Fallaleen. The couple’s financial advisor views the two through the lense of Otto being on the verge of bankruptcy. Until reading these stories this week, I did not realize how often Vonnegut uses business and finance people in his stories. Most of the time, they play the straight person to all the crazies living around them. In this case, though, a poignant ending lets the finance dude in on the couples’ realization that they do love each other even if Falloleen would rather be her real self, Kitty Cahoun.
The role of women in Vonnegut’s stories sometimes seems dated from the standpoint of the 21st century; however, in this 1950’s-placed story, one can tell he is at least taking a step toward the idea that women aren’t simply for makeup, dresses and jewelry. The story implies that all the money and fashion doesn’t seal the deal in a relationship. Something has to be there that is more honest and less shallow. I thought it a nice touch that this couple learns this lesson instead of being destroyed by the lack of it:
“Oh dear,” she said. “I’m starting to feel like Falloleen again.”
“Don’t be afraid of it,” said Otto. “Just make sure this time that Kitty shines through in all her glory.”
While I love the cynicism that Vonnegut is able to put into so much of his work, I enjoy his ability to provide a sentimental touch every once in a while.