Non-Spoiler Alert: Vonnegut tells us at the onset what the climax of the story is so there’s almost no way for me to spoil anything for you. I’ll still try though. I’ll try my ass off to spoil everything for you. But again, it’s really unspoilable. Here goes.
Due to a combination of bad chemicals and bad ideas in his head, at the climax, Dwayne Hoover, a wealthy car dealer, goes on a rampage that sends 11 people to the hospital. The man responsible for those ideas is the other main character, Kilgore Trout, a prolific yet obscure sci-fi writer.
In the leadup to the rampage we not only learn about Hoover and Trout, but Vonnegut takes us down innumerable rabbit holes about seemingly trivial characters. To be honest, I was frustrated by all these tangents and found myself questioning Vonnegut’s ability to form a coherent plot. Stupid John Box. As I should have known, and as we find out at the 68% mark, this was wholly intentional. Vonnegut asks:
Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.
Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other.
Exposed to this bit of information, everything changed. All that had been frustrating became poetic, and the substance of the story then grew stronger and stronger, building toward a powerful, provocative conclusion.
Throughout the book, Vonnegut’s strengths shine.
He’s witty and razor-sharp. He takes jabs at humanity, America, health care, the military, racism, and of course, the Creator of the Universe. Most of them land, but occasionally he goes too far in his disdain for mankind. But he’s an idealist; pining for a world where everyone is kind and good to each other, and good to the planet. Seems pretty reasonable to me. Yet completely and wholly unrealistic. As Donald Trump would say, Sad.
He’s imaginative and clever. He sprinkles in invented sci-fi book synopses which reminded me of a story about the creatures on the distant planet of Threa whose bodies were covered with sexual organs to the point that they couldn’t so much as shake hands without engaging in the freaky foxtrot. And they loved it that way. They spent all their energy humping and humping and multiplying and multiplying to the point that Threa was on the brink of destruction. Their Creator was forced to intervene and exterminate them with lasers. Or so He thought. A few sneaky ones survived and spread to other planets where they humped and humped and multiplied and multiplied to the point that they not only destroyed the entire universe, but also the Creator of the Universe, and It’s Creator, and It’s Creator and so on and so on. The book was called Raising Cancer; A Comedy of Errors. (Or maybe it was called The Stars’ Fault; I get confused these days.) Anyhoo, Vonnegut’s synopses are a jillion times better. Some are creative and interesting, some are absurd, and some are profound and thought-provoking.
Finally, Vonnegut’s unique and inventive. He writes himself into the story, much like Charlie Kaufman did in the classic film Adaptation, but 30 years earlier. This adds to the climax, providing intriguing yet awkward moments as he converses with characters he’s writing.
To sum up, once I had an understanding of why Vonnegut was telling the story by giving us in-depth looks at seemingly insignificant characters, I found it compelling and insightful. And I enjoyed how throughout the book he sprinkled in bits and pieces of the climax and the reasons for the rampage. It made for an interesting buildup to an existential peak that was uplifting, optimistic, and compassionate, but with pessimistic undertones of reality.
Having said that, there are not a tremendous amount of LOLs. While Vonnegut writes extremely well and is certainly creative and witty, there were only a handful of little lols, a third of them for me arising from his sketchings of buttholes.
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“I can’t tell if you’re serious or not,” said the driver.
“I won’t know myself until I find out whether life is serious or not,” said Trout. “It’s dangerous, I know, and it can hurt a lot. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s serious, too.”
Bonus quote #2:
I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karabekian with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid.
p.s. Remember when I said I’d try my ass off to spoil everything for you? In The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis is dead the whole time! Oh yeah. That felt good. Consider yourself spoiled.
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