Review: Cat’s Cradle

December 2, 2010 Comments Off on Review: Cat’s Cradle

I’ve been skeptical of Vonnegut for a long time, the same way I’ve been skeptical of Kerouac and Hemingway, off and on, rarely with any evidence for what I should be thinking one way or the other. When I read Welcome to the Monkey House, I was in a strange way pleased that I found the stories immature and dated and the writing nondescript. I read Cat’s Cradle only under duress.

…I liked it a lot! But I don’t know what I liked about it. The story was okay—I’m developing a great affection for stories that incorporate many absurd elements, because life is that way but no one talks about it, and I liked how it rambled and I loved the ending. The writing got very good in places, but was a little inconsistent. The characters were very good, although it was better to hear them described than to watch them interact. And Bokononism was touching and wise, and it was maybe my favorite part, although it was also where I had the most problems with the tone.

Because I am a very gullible person, I have come to detest the suspicion that someone is making fun of me, and as a result, I become preemptively defensive and hostile when faced with things like performance art and experimental fiction. Because if I were to create performance art or experimental fiction (and I could, easily), there would be no soul in it, only a tiny cruel voice mocking the people who took me seriously. I hate tiny cruel voices, because I’ve heard them in people’s speech, and so I’m afraid to hear them in writing or in art. There is a scene in Cat’s Cradle with last rites, which I love, but the writing is (purposefully?) clumsy and unmelodious, and I don’t know what to think of Vonnegut, or what he’s thinking.

Maybe I’m thinking too hard, but something about Vonnegut’s writing style makes me distrust him. Because I suspect he’s toying with me, I am reluctant to like what I read, and I become surly when he draws a positive reaction from me. But why do I give a damn? It’s not like he’s going to pop up and ask me what I think, or laugh at me. At least I hope not. So I guess I actually did like the book, I just can’t admit it anywhere Vonnegut’s ghost can hear me, just in case he wrote it as a personal joke on me and is waiting in the wings of my life, bursting with suppressed laughter, waiting for his chance to lunge at me shouting, “Haha! Boy, you fell for THAT one!” So I won’t say anything. That’ll teach him.

“God made mud. God got lonesome. So God said to some of the mud, ‘Sit up!’

‘See all I’ve made,’ said God, ‘the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.’ And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. Lucky me, lucky mud. I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done. ‘Nice going, God! Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have. I feel very unimportant compared to You. The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and look around. I got so much, and most mud got so little. Thank you for the honor! Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep. What memories for mud to have! What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met! I loved everything I saw! Good night. I will go to heaven now. I can hardly wait to find out for certain what my wampeter was and who was in my karass and all the good things our karass did for you.'”

See what I mean? I want to like it, but I can’t quite. He ruins it. On purpose. To be mean? I’m not sure. Other people might read this passage and laud the author for avoiding the obvious trap of elevated or poetic language that one might expect in last rites, but one of my beliefs that I am beginning to hold tightly to is that poetic language is worthwhile and can be good and is not out of style. Part of the problem is that Bokonon, the religious figure, is supposed to be an ordinary guy who came up with a religion as a morale-booster. So maybe he’s not supposed to be a great writer. But I would have made him better than this. After all, the point is that he is a religious figure, in spite of the fact that he isn’t. His teachings are truth, even though they are lies. (And he is a good writer, even though he isn’t? Hm.)

Anyway. I guess I’m getting sidetracked into paranoia and meditations. In the end, I liked the book quite a lot, and I’m in a better mood to take on Slaughterhouse-Five than I was after Welcome to the Monkey House. It was very thought-provoking. And I just might be a Bokononist.

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