Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

After a string of three great books (The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night and Cat's Cradle), Vonnegut faltered a bit with God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It has fantastic moments, but does not come together as a particularly effective whole. The story meanders through settings and characters which are rarely developed to satisfaction. The main character, Eliot Rosewater, is an exception, and the book is at its best when it stays with him. Rosewater is the inheritor of a vast fortune, and becomes an eccentric benefactor to the poor and decrepit of a county in Indiana. Vonnegut's alter-ego, science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout, makes his first appearance. Vonnegut attempts to address socialism vs. free enterprise and unconditional love, but the story doesn't hold together enough for the message to be especially powerful.

Like I say though, there are moments of brilliance mixed into the hodge podge story, such as this quintessentially Vonnegut passage:

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies:
"God damn it, you've got to be kind."


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle (1963)

Guh. My brain is left mushy trying to say anything partially intelligent in response to genius. Cat's Cradle is an ambitious, biting commentary on  science gone too far and especially religion. A scientist creates a doomsday substance, just because he's curious if it can be done, with no regard for the implications. The best part is the invention of the religion Bokononism, the tenets of which make up a lot of the book. Vonnegut dreams up new vocabulary as part of the religion. Some highlights:

  • karass: group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God's will
  • granfalloon: a false karass, ie., a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist
  • foma: harmless untruths
All of Bokononism is made up of foma. As it is written in the Books of Bokonon, "Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." I especially like the idea of a granfalloon, exemplified in the book by a character extremely proud of her home state of Indiana. So much harm in this world could be avoided if arbitrarily related groups didn't feel their granfalloons (race, gender, nationality, religion, etc.) were superior to others. Read this book.