Oh Dear, Another Vonnegut…

February 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

A Review of Cat’s Cradle (kind of)

My problem with Vonnegut is that his novels are too short.  I was just finally becoming fascinated by the Bokonons and their rituals and the book ends.  I want his tales Dickens style – with two or three hundred pages on Bokonon establishing his religion and living in the jungle, then I want another hundred pages on Newt, Angela, and Frank.  Instead, I get a sentence here, a paragraph there, and finish the book unsatisfied.  On top of that, I feel like a jerk for not appreciating Vonnegut the way the rest of society seems to.  I have the appropriate shelf of my library dedicated to all his work, but I just can’t muster up the love.  Like Salinger, he’s good, he’s even really good, but he’s not the best thing ever (though I am repeatedly told that he is).  Perhaps the hype has ruined him for me.

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3 Comments

  1. Andrew said,

    Vonnegut is the kind of author that’s always hiding in the bushes of every conversation on 20th C novels. People read him and then he creeps around the subconscious. All the same, there is a strange depressive quality about him that makes it seem impolite to bring him up in mixed company.

    But yea, he’s only going to really charm a certain few. You don’t have to love him though. That’s just a snobbish peer pressure thing. And besides, if he were loved by all then his devoted fans would be upset about people just liking him because he’s popular or something. They would sulk and say things like, “They still don’t get him, really…”

    He doesn’t really go into thorough culture-building much. I think he’s too comfortable wandering around in his distracted thoughts to really build a complete system for his aliens and things.

    I absolutely adore his character Kilgore Trout.

    “You were sick, but now you’re well, and there’s work to do.”

    • anakalianwhims said,

      Haha… thank you, Andrew, I am a bit relieved. I am not a huge fan, but I feel the way you say about the true fans who sulk – people just like him because other people do. If I met people often that loved him for being him and for his stories and for finding a bit of themselves in his books, I could appreciate that more. But most people, when you ask them why they like Vonnegut they say, “Oh, I don’t know, he’s just good.” Then you find out that someone told them to read his books when they were in high school and they of course loved it and their aren’t many intelligible thoughts beyond that. I think you are right though, he is very comfortable in his distraction. Maybe that’s why he’s so popular, people have the freedom to be distracted when reading someone who is equally or more so. Its like talking to someone in conversation… I don’t have to look you in the eye because you’re not looking me in the eye; but if you look me in the eye, I gotta look you in the eye back. I’m a book snob in that I want the author to look me in the eye, and I want to be required to peer at their work with great interest and think about it all. Maybe that’s why I love Steinbeck so much – he’s full of himself and his beautiful talent and demands that you pay attention. He is so forceful in his demand (in looking you in the eye so to speak) that you cannot tear yourself away from a single word he writes. East of Eden completely blew me away for that. However, I would never accept the idea that someone likes Steinbeck because I like Steinbeck, I want you to be able to tell me what it is about him exactly that you like so much. It can’t just be because I told you to read it and it was a pleasant experience. What made it pleasant? What captured your attention? What keeps you in raptures when someone just slightly utters the title of one of his books in your presence, or an aisle over in a bookstore/library?

  2. Andrew said,

    Hey again!

    Ok, so here’s how I got to your site in the first place — through the comments on the noreligion blog. Your comments were positive and actually welcoming of conversation, and frankly that is just so refreshingly rare on blogs that I figured I’d wander by and look around.

    Vonnegut was introduced to me through a friend when I was in my twenties. I had been through my phase of fantasy-lit and my school-phase of academically-approved-lit. Vonnegut’s meandering style was such a refreshing change, and yet I could see these hints of depressed genius. It was a strange combo of natural wandering but underlying purpose all at once. As well, his default cynicism playing out against some sort of knee-jerk hope for the world appealed to me in my lost twenty-something days.

    I haven’t read much Steinbeck but I am floored by his power of language, for sure. My parents had a few really old paperback versions of some of his novels. My brain has linked that fifties-sixties, Hardy-Boys-haircut-and-clothes cover artwork to the look and feel of his stories. I don’t know why, but there’s a nostalgia or something around his particular books. And old teacher of mine said something like Steinbeck taught America how to write the great American novel all over again.

    I don’t totally remember the story, but isn’t it Steinbeck that wrote an essay on the depression or something, and then couldn’t get it published because it was so dry and bland? So he ended up rewriting it as a novel and shoving the essay in the middle somewhere, but then the novel turned into some incredible hit. Actually, I think it was a former boss of mine that told me something about that.

    Whatever was the deal, huge lesson on form and style there.

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