I’m beginning to think that Kurt Vonnegut’s reputation as a comedic author is ill-fitting. This is the third book of his that I’ve read and while he’s creative and witty, he’s not laugh-out-loud funny; which is a problem for readers looking for at least a few hearty LOLs.
In Cat’s Cradle, the narrator, John, tells us that a long time ago he began collecting material for a book he intended to call The Day the World Ended, which would be an account of how certain notable Americans spent the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Thus begins a fateful journey where he eventually meets the somewhat quirky children of Felix Hoenikker, the ‘Father of the Atomic Bomb,’ and travels to the Republic of San Lorenzo, ‘a tiny island nation in the Caribbean Sea.’
Along the way, he learns about a scientific discovery that in terms of potential destruction makes the atomic bomb look like a sparkler, as well as about Bokononism, an enigmatic yet enlightening religion of the people of San Lorenzo.
The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is this:
“All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”
A decided drawback of Cat’s Cradle is the underlying tone that because science leads to discoveries that can be used for evil, science is evil. That’s some head-scratching hippy logic that had me shaking my fist at my Kindle and is an odd conclusion for a seemingly exceedingly intelligent man to make. But perhaps Vonnegut just likes to point out life’s contradictions via dark satire in an effort to show that he’s an exceedingly intelligent man.
Or perhaps, since this book was published in 1963 and Vonnegut had fought in WWII, the atom bomb carnage was still relatively fresh in his mind and were he to write this book today – an age where science has bestowed upon us free, handheld, high-def porn – perhaps he wouldn’t be such a Negative Nancy.
In addition to the anti-science undertone, there are also anti-business, anti-mankind, pro-mankind, anti-God, and pro-God undercurrents. Vonnegut is either confused or covering all of his bases.
Further, the actual storyline of this book is not particularly compelling and with the exception of Julian Castle, who is with us for like two pages, none of the characters, not even the awesomely named protagonist, draw us in. Both the story and the characters are pretty much duds.
And most importantly from this Review’s point of view, there are more mehs than lols.
Having said that, as Vonnegut is wont to do, he manages to include many passages that are witty, well-phased, and profound. A good example of this is when John is describing Hazel Crosby, a middle-aged woman from Indiana who asks all the young Indianans that she meets around the world to call her “Mom.”
Hazel’s obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other examples of granfalloon are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere.
An interesting aspect in this story is that Vonnegut seems to bear a real grudge against dwarfs. This is evident not only from his reference to Newton, a person of short stature, as Little Newt, but also in the following excerpts.
Midgets are, after all, diversions for silly or quiet times.
Never had I seen a human being better adjusted to such a humiliating physical handicap. I shuddered with admiration.
While I generally applaud wholly unwarranted and over-the-top harassment, Vonnegut is probably the reason that hack comedians weave midgets into stories – or worse, improv – to be creative and funny. It’s neither, asswipes!
Anyhoo, to sum up, the story and characters are not interesting enough and the book not funny enough to warrant anything over 3 Pearls.
Bonus quote: People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.