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.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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