I discovered the books of Kurt Vonnegut sometime after the author’s death. The first one I read was his most well-known novel Slaughterhouse-Five and I absolutely loved it. I think I consider that novel one of my Top 3 favorite books. Since Slaughterhouse-Five, I’ve returned to the works of Vonnegut a couple times every year. Mother Night is a masterpiece. Breakfast of Champions is perhaps the funniest book of his that I’ve read but it’s not the deepest. The Sirens of Titan isn’t as ‘easy’ as the other books but it’s also great. So now I come to Cat’s Cradle, also one of the author’s most revered works.
I tried to read this book three or four years ago and didn’t make it past page 50. Not sure what was different this time around but I found this book a delight to read in 2015. Cat’s Cradle is frequently hilarious, often thought-provoking, and always leads the reader to places unexpected.
The narrator of the story – a young man named Jonah, whose last name remains a curious mystery – is setting out to write a story about the day the bomb was dropped on Japan. He wants to get the views of those who were close to the project, how they felt on the day, at the very moment of detonation. He’s not investigating J. Robert Oppenheimer – the real-world creator of the bomb who goes unmentioned in this novel -- but rather Felix Hoenikker, a fictional creation and pretty much a stand-in for Oppenheimer. Dr. Hoenikker is dead by the time that Jonah begins his research, so he searches out Hoenikker’s children instead: the midget youngest son Newt, the daughter Angela who is married to a weapons inventor, and oldest son Frank who has been missing for some time. During his investigative trek, Jonah is taken to the island country of San Lorenzo where he discovers the religion of Bokonon, and his life is changed forever.
In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut tackled war and wartime tragedies with the use of sci-fi time-travel and black humor. He again returned to those themes for Mother Night with the use of espionage and identity thriller trappings. Cat’s Cradle isn’t so much about war but it does have many of the same thoughts on the subject, particularly mankind’s willingness to destroy himself in pursuit of… what, exactly?
As Bokonon tells us: “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.”
In addition to looking at the madness of mankind’s destructive nature, the book also spends a great deal of time on religion. The made-up religion of Bokonon is really the book’s major hook, as it allows Vonnegut an opportunity to impart some weirdo wisdom to his readers while also communicating a dubious question about religion’s worth in people’s lives.
I love Kurt Vonnegut. His books are both tragically sad and laugh out loud funny, sometimes even on the same page. Cat’s Cradle will not be for everyone, though. It’s a little weird and it’s very downbeat. Me, I think it’s brilliant.
As for where I’d put this in the Vonnegut books I’ve read thus far, I’m ranking it 3rd behind Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five. Definitely a book you should seek out and give a shot.
I enjoyed Stephen King’s step into thriller territory with last year’s Mr. Mercedes more than most, it would seem (my review on Goodreads). While I remember thinking that that book was lacking in genuine surprises, I liked where it went, I enjoyed my time with the characters, and I thought it was a successful novel overall. It was quickly revealed that Mr. Mercedes was the first entry in a trilogy surrounding retired detective Bill Hodges and his unlikely allies Holly and Jerome. Finders Keepers definitely counts as part two of the trilogy, but it’s this weird sidestep in the story where the trilogy’s primary arc is left in the background while a secondary villain holds down the fort for a one-time deal.
King uses Finders Keepers to address two subjects concerning writing that he’s written about before. The first is the talented writer who quits – something that King wrote about in On Writing, where he questioned how a gifted author could stop telling stories. The second is the rabid and irrational literary fans, as seen previously in King’s classic Misery (memorably brought to life by Kathy Bates in the Rob Reiner film).
In Finders Keepers, the famous author John Rothstein has withdrawn from public life after the third book in his Jimmy Gold series left his character in a comfortable, happy place. Rothstein’s biggest fan Morris Bellamy doesn’t approve of the final Jimmy Gold book. Not. One. Bit. So, Morris breaks into Rothstein’s house, kills the old man, and raids his safe. What does he find in the safe? About $20,000 and a series of notebooks, all of which seem to contain new Rothstein fiction and… a new Jimmy Gold book. Morris stashes the goods in a trunk in the woods and is quickly arrested for an unrelated crime. When he gets out from jail, Morris expects he’ll be able to retrieve his treasure and enjoy the final Jimmy Gold book as if it was written just for him. Except, in the time that he’s been locked away, a young boy finds the trunk, uses the cash to keep his struggling family afloat, and falls in love with Rothstein’s prose. When Morris is finally released from jail, a series of well-constructed twists put him on a collision course with the young man.
What’s surprising is how long it takes before Bill Hodges enters the story. But that seems to be the issue with Finders Keepers in general: it takes a long time to set the table before things are allowed to go bad. To be clear, the earlier sections of the book are still pretty good – there’s some fine characterization, a few interesting coincidences that link hero and villain before they ever meet, and the typically fantastic Stephen King prose. But yes, it does take a while to get going. When finally Bill Hodges is brought into the story, Finders Keepers presents him with a hero role, but by now he’s been automatically downgraded to a supporting character.
Finders Keepers is a curious detour for a trilogy to take. It’s impossible to imagine it as a standalone novel and yet at the same time the story feels only barely connected to Mr. Mercedes. It’s almost like King came up with a story that clicked for him and then thought, ‘hey, what if I put Bill Hodges into it,’ and TADA! Finders Keepers.
If the ending of Finders Keepers is any indication, the final book of the trilogy End of Watch seems like it’s going to be more closely related to the primary arc of the heroes and villains than Book 2 was. And I’m not going to spoil anything, but the last chapter of Finders Keepers hints that Book 3 is going to take our characters into some unexpected places. I’m looking forward to it.
Finders Keepers gets a positive rating from me. I liked it less than Mr. Mercedes, though. There’s a lot of setup and it takes a long time to reach the payoff. Still, I enjoyed getting a chance to catchup with Hodges, Jerome, and Holly, some of King’s most likable real-world heroes. Like Mr. Mercedes, I don’t think Finders Keepers is ever going to be considered one of Stephen King’s very best, but it’s an enjoyable departure from the norm for an author better known for his horror and fantasy novels. I remain a King fan and look forward to what comes next.
I’m giving Finders Keepers a 3.5 out of 5.
Cross-posted to Goodreads.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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