by Kurt Vonnegut
A type of long, drawn out satire on various elements of contemporary American life. Looked at with a distance the whole structure seems fairly random, and even a bit incoherent, and I can’t say that any of the characterization is strong enough to really ground the work or give a huge overarching poignance to any of the situations. Nevertheless it was an engaging work, playing with different models of how we see the individual American and wider American society, and delivering a story with lasting societal force precisely because of how specific it is.
To an extent I’d share the criticism I had of Pohl’s The Years of the City here, that both works become a bit too cynical to be truly effective as humor. Overall it’s better written and a lot more imaginative, however. And it’s not aspiring to be science fiction--in the way that much of Vonnegut’s other stuff is in content, if not in marketing--and it works better as a study of how flat the common commitment to ideals is, how shalow such emotional investment can be. The criticism stands, I think, but more importantly is it’s delivered by an effective book. The given narrative isn’t always wholly coherent but it’s creative and was ultimately fun to read, so in the end I’d count this work a success.
To an extent all reading is heavily constrained by circumstance, one isn’t just engaging with an author’s text but with the whole circumstances surrounding the reading; the environment, previous reading, other options, mobility and so forth. In that light, it’s worth noting that I read this novel on an airplane, directly after the Poisonwood Bible. In terms of basic quality of writing and sheer emotional impact Vonnegut’s work felt a lot less. In terms of the environment, the position of not having a huge range of options to do or even space to move perhaps made my experience of the book harsher than it would otherwise have been, while at the same time the direct experience of reading became a direct distraction and way to fill the time of what in itself would have been a boring experience. Put that one in the balance sheet. In that light, it’s worth pointing out that I’m writing this review months later in another airport, having available power but not an internet connection.
Worse than: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Better than: The Crocodile by Fyodor Dostoevsky