Sunday, April 26, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut's Novels Rated

After three years, I've finished re-reading Vonnegut's 14 novels in chronological order. It's pretty silly to rate novels (or anything else) with numbers, but the numbers aren't to do with technical, objective literary merits, just my attempt to reflect how much they did or did not resonate with me.

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Timequake

Timequake (1997)

My memory of reading Timequake 15 years ago was that it was a disappointing, disjointed final novel for Vonnegut, so I wasn't looking forward to re-reading it that much. What a difference a changed head space can make. It's not even a pure novel but more like a wizened old man's greatest life lessons, beliefs, jokes, and tragedies distilled into a final love/hate letter to the world. There is also half a novel woven in that involves a "timequake" that rewinds time 10 years and everyone is forced to live those years over again in exactly the same way. That part is great too, but the book is a true treasure for the parts in which Vonnegut is just talking to the reader like a friend. Seemingly every page contains a striking and/or hilarious passage, and it is a more than worthy end cap to Vonnegut's incredible string of novels published between 1952 and 1997.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Galapagos, Bluebeard, and Hocus Pocus

Galapagos (1985)

I unfortunately have waited so long to write down my thoughts on Galapagos that the book is no longer fresh in my mind. I know I enjoyed it, but I also took forever to read it for some reason. The premise, the last humans on earth being stranded on an island and evolving into something else, is a good one and mostly overcomes some sloppy structure that drags in parts.


Bluebeard (1987)

This is one of Vonnegut's most readable and focused novels. Written (like Mother Night and Hocus Pocus) as an autobiography by a fictional character, Bluebeard is the memoirs of abstract expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian who used a type of paint that unexpectedly eroded and fell off the canvases after just a few years. The cast of characters is small and the story straight as an arrow.

Hocus Pocus (1990)

This story is like a shotgun blast, with a few pieces hitting the mark and others flying around uselessly. It's the memoirs of Eugene Debs Hartke, Vietnam vet and college professor. The novel is set in the not too distant future with foreign interests having taken over the American economy and things generally going to pot for the country and Hartke personally. An unsatisfying and meandering tale.