Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hocus Pocus - Kurt Vonnegut

"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the Universe."

I have made it a personal goal to read everything ever published by Kurt Vonnegut. He is obviously one of my favourite writers, so I figured that I should acquaint myself with everything that he has written instead of just reading some and proclaiming that I love all of his writing. I have been told that his later writing is not necessarily as good as his older stuff, but I think that I am going to have to disagree. Hocus Pocus was one of the last things ever published by Vonnegut, and I actually really enjoyed it. When I began reading I went in with the impressions that I had been getting from all of my peers who are familiar with Vonnegut, and I was ready to be let down. I think that maybe going in with such low expectations helped me (and the novel) a little bit, but honestly I think that Vonnegut just got lucky again because regardless of the story, I love his voice.

This non-linear work of fiction circles the main event in the life of Eugene Debs Hartke, a veteran-turned-professor-turned-warden-turned-convict. We find out early that Eugene has been incarcerated as a result of a prison break and the ensuing violence on a school directly across the frozen water. Both buildings hold a great deal of relevance to Eugene, as he was a former employee of the school and a current employee of the prison. The storyline flares off into his memories of the war and his general past, and although they are seemingly unrelated, every event circles to provide significance to Eugene's life as a whole. The most fun of this novel is the concluding equation that Eugene offers in order to solve the premise of his writing. As always, Vonnegut tugs at heartstrings with such subtle grace that the conclusion leaves you with a lot on your plate.

I give this novel a 4/5. I don't want everyone to think that I just love Vonnegut without question. I didn't expect to like this novel at all, but the story was actually exactly what I am used to with his fiction. There was a lot more racial and class references present within this novel, and in his past works I have not been used to this. Some of the more racist slurs made me uncomfortable, but I am also aware of the way that it fit into the story, and how it was significant. The non-linear format gave a Tralfamadorian effect, as we know from the beginning what is going to happen. With Vonnegut, the conclusion is never the purpose of the story. It is always the path that is taken to get there.

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