Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Science fiction, classic, postmodern
My Rating: ★★★★
Exploring more of literature’s moral badlands is one of the things I included in my list of bookscapades this year. I’ve considered plunging back into the worlds of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, but my sudden need to return to classics led me to Kurt Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle, my first taste of his oeuvre, can be well considered a good postmodernist romp into the badlands I’m referring to. What made it stand out from its classic kin is its deadpan humor, packing a punch like no other and propping up his rich commentary on human folly.
Cat’s Cradle, like its string game namesake, has an intricacy that seems to back up the statement ‘the best lies create the best stories.’ It follows the narrator who calls himself Jonah (“Jonah—John—if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still”). He goes around collecting material for a book he’s planning to write, which is supposed to focus on the day the atomic bomb obliterated Hiroshima, Japan. He researches about Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called fathers of the atomic bomb, and eventually finds his life entangled with those of the three strange Hoenikker children—a charmless wench, a train model designer, and a midget. On the process of acquiring potential materials, he gets to know the “outlawed” religion Bokononism, the impoverished San Lorenzo island with its stunning mulatto muse, and the powerful chip called ice-nine.
Vonnegut’s brand of social satire is a joy to read. Living in the 21st century didn’t prevent me from relating to his points; Vonnegut captured the 60s zeitgeist in the book, but it contains timeless threads that hook themselves in our generation.
With black humor in his lit voice box, the author speaks subversively of the little dystopias we build in our societies—science, religion, and politics, particularly their unlikely enmeshments and expected clashes—until we finally reach the end of times. He speaks of the truth that a man will always be half-bad and half-good, because full proportions of either would only drive anyone insane. That sometimes, the “good guys” themselves have to create something “evil” to fight against just so they wouldn’t lose the essence of their existence. The story, fragmented and flawed in its own way, detail more facts about the society that we often refuse to acknowledge.
Of all the countless things I could love about this book, perhaps the very characteristic I gave a big nod to is how Vonnegut didn’t try to bury his points underneath flowery prose. I love a good word play, but Vonnegut’s simple and somewhat flippant approach to his chosen themes seems to intensify the power of his writing. I bet anyone who would read his terse sentences would know that every phrase means a whole world of messages and meanings.
Humorous, off-the-wall, and thought-provoking, Cat’s Cradle is an unforgettable trip to another classic author’s world. Four stars for a good read.