I think I have a love/hate relationship with the author Kurt Vonnegut. With most of his books, I can appreciate the message and the angle with which he’s trying to relate it. On the other hand, his absurdism is just too much for me. I really don’t find it funny – in fact, I think he uses it as a tool of condescension, and it detracts from my enjoyment of his books. But Vonnegut is a talented writer and his books are not difficult to read. So I torture myself on occasion, with the hope that this time, I will really enjoy one of his books.
The premise of Cat’s Cradle is simple: Dr. Felix Hoenikker has left the world a legacy, “Ice-9,” a weapon so powerful, it is capable of freezing the entire world. A writer, researching the life of Dr. Hoenikker, seeks out Dr. Hoenikker’s three children and eventually winds up on a Caribbean Island where the son, Frank Hoenikker is the right hand of Manzano, the island’s dictator. Before long, they all realize that “Ice-9” has proliferated throughout the world, leaving civilization on the brink of apocalypse.
With the invention of atomic weapons, the fear of total annihilation was on the minds of many, including Kurt Vonnegut. He shares that fear through this novel, asserting that the idea that “goodness” in a weapon of such mass destruction is based on lies. He further asserts that such a life of fear necessarily requires religion, also based on lies. More than 50 years later, we ask ourselves: “was he correct?” The fears of the day – that the USSR and the United States would devolve into nuclear war were not realized. There was certainly a element of truth behind the fear, but in hindsight, there were far too many variables (known and unknown at the time), for Vonnegut to be completely accurate in his assessment. I would argue the same holds true for religion. Which brings me back the hate part of my feeling for Vonnegut’s work. It’s preachy and elitist and condescending. He takes a subject, asserts that the issues are black and white, adds absurd humor to stress his point, and then presents it to the world, which responds with literary accolades.
After Slaughterhouse-Five, I think Vonnegut loses me. With that novel, his opinion was based on first-hand knowledge. He was there for the fire-bombing of Dresden. He was one of the many serving in combat during World War II. He directly observed others and his own reactions to the war. His opinion held merit. I cannot say the same for Cat’s Cradle. Rating this book was not easy. Vonnegut’s approach to the subject matter and his literary style should be held in high regard. But I have to deduct at least a point for the opinion and the condescension.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1963
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