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Eugene Debs Hartke (named after the famous early 20th century Socialist working class leader) describes an odyssey from college professor to prison inmate to prison warden back again to prisoner in another of Vonnegut’s bitter satirical explorations of how and where (and why) the American dream begins to die. Employing his characteristic narrative device--a retrospective diary in which the protagonist retraces his life at its end, a desperate and disconnected series of events here in Hocus Pocus show Vonnegut with his mask off and his rhetorical devices unshielded.

Debs (and Vonnegut) see academia just as imprisoning as the corrupt penal system and they regard politics as the furnishing and marketing of lies. Debs, already disillusioned by circumstance, quickly tracks his way toward resignation and then fury. As warden and prisoner, Debs (and the reader) come to understand that the roles are interchangeable; as a professor jailed for “radical” statements in the classroom reported by a reactionary student, he comes to see the folly of all regulation. The “hocus pocus” of the novel’s title does not describe only the jolting reversals and seemingly motiveless circumstance which attend Debs’ disillusion and suffering, but also describe the political, social, and economic system of a country built upon can’t, and upon the franchising of lies.

At 68, Vonnegut had not only abandoned the sentiment and cracked optimism manifest in Slaughterhouse-Five, he had abandoned any belief in the system or faith for its recovery. This novel is another in a long series of farewells to the farmland funeral rites of childhood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut’s audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut’s work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut’s work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut’s reputation (like Mark Twain’s) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut’s World War II POW experience) and Cat’s Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut’s work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut’s work as well as newcomers.

Topics: Crime and Funny

Published: RosettaBooks on Aug 21, 1990
ISBN: 9780795318627
List price: $8.99
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Loved this book. Interesting story written in Vonnegut's original style, but there is also some important commentary about the Vietnam war.read more
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the more vonnegut i read, the more i enjoy him! i have to admit, however, i don't always get 100% of the satire and refrences- but i got enough of it to understand most of it! i liked how i never really knew where the story was going and how it kept me on my toes. this is one of his newer novels, but it still had the same great story telling. i really liked the ending- it was well deserved and left me satisfied. (and i love how both john irving and joseph heller are quoted on the cover!- you know it's a good book when two of your favorite authors say so!!!)read more
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I will preface my review by saying that Kurt Vonnegut is not for everyone. Personally, I love the subject matter he writes about and his style. However, I know quite a few people that wouldn't be able to get through two chapters of this.Hocus Pocus doesn't have much of a traditional plot; if anything, it's more of a character study of Hartke, the main character in the novel. Like the summary says, it's a fictional autobiography. For some readers, it may be slow going because of this, but there's plenty of action and drama to keep interest.It's hard to give a review of Hocus Pocus, because it's so different from most novels. I will say that I loved it and found it highly entertaining. Vonnegut tackles a lot of issues in this novel -- environmental concerns that are eerily accurate for a book written in 1990, the effects that war has on a person and a nation, bureaucratic power games, etc. I liked the numerology aspects that are included, though the ending gave me a bit of a headache trying to figure out; I'm sure it's much easier when you're actually reading the book rather than listening to it being read. Even though it's definitely depressing (which is to be expected from Vonnegut), I found myself chuckling at many of Hartke's observations and at the weird things that have happened in his life.There was one thing and one thing only that bothered me about Hocus Pocus. There were quite a few references to Slaughter-House Five. Hartke mentions "some author" who wrote about Trafalmadorians and goes on to mention them multiple times throughout the second half of the novel. I didn't think these references added anything to the story -- in fact, they took me out of the story because I kept wondering why Vonnegut couldn't think of anything else to reference besides his own novel.George Ralph's performance is astounding. His tone is perfect for this book. For the humorous, satirical parts, he speaks as if he's serious, but somehow still makes it known that the words aren't meant to be taken literally. Hartke came alive for me because of Ralph's narration, and I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed Hocus Pocus as much had I not listened to this audiobook.read more
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Hocus Pocus, as its title interestingly suggests, is a novel that works its magic on you in an entirely unsuspecting way.Contrary to the many ecstatic reviews on the cover, there are two things this book is not: it is not laugh-out-loud funny (though the humor is sharp and frequently employed), and it is not anything like a "resurgence" (the novel prior to this, Bluebeard, came out just three years before this one, a typical gestation period for Vonnegut). It's a fairly consistent work among his works in that it builds itself around a multilayered narrative that evolves through various threads and across various times and locations, all of which are centered around the to-be-notorious Tarkington Prison (née College).These threads are especially complex and random in the early goings, which make this novel somewhat hard to get into. But once the rhythm is established and the narrative dives headlong into the disastrous prison riot that overtakes the college and its small town, it becomes clear that the rhythm of the storytelling is by no means an accident: each revelation is perfectly planned and produces its desired effect.Often funny, heartbreaking, and filled with his trademark wry commentary on the foibles of human nature, Hocus Pocus eventually does hit the mark.read more
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I can't say that this is one of Kurt Vonnegut's best works. To be honest, it's rather more depressing than many of his other novels - and they're a rather depressing lot anyway! Unlike his Bluebeard, though, this book lacks a deeply moving and somehow uplifting ending. It lacks a sense of resolution...perhaps that's what Vonnegut intended. It probably is.

But even so, Vonnegut retained his gifts as a writer. So although I found myself frequently feeling a little depressed by this book, I also couldn't stop reading it - and I'll eventually read it again.

One thing that's almost shocking is the accuracy of Vonnegut's "future" (2001) America. Environmental collapse (from glaciers instead of global warming, but close enough), an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, a desperate energy crisis, booming prison populations and the privatization of prisons, the wholesale purchase of American businesses and properties by foreign businesses, chronic unemployment caused by the demise of American industry, no healthcare for the poor...and that's just from memory, I know there was more. The seeds of all these trends were not only planted but sprouting back in 1990 when Vonnegut wrote this, but even so he paints a pitiless and frighteningly accurate picture.

It's nice to see a few of his old favorite characters in the book; it gives a feeling of continuity. And he retained his wicked wit and imagination. It just seems that they were being overshadowed by the essential bleakness of Vonnegut's worldview - a worldview which, I fear, was only too clear.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Hocus Pocus introduced me to many various now-familiar aspects of KV's writing. The many colorful characters, the unimpressive schlub protagonists who are in so many ways their own antagonists, the incredibly intriguing and imaginative scenes that he paints so effortlessly (a child in Hiroshima who bends over to pick up a ball in a ditch feels a woosh of warm air across his back as he does so, then stands up to see a wasteland of devastation from a nuclear bomb), the witticisms that could and should be taken as genuine advice ("profanity and obscenity entitle people who don't want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you"), all marinated in his own distinct brand of humor.I was a late-comer to Vonnegut, this being the first book I read by him. I finished it roughly a month before his death, and it saddened me to have discovered such an amazing author so near his twilight. I was saddened still more by reaching backwards through his career, and in doing so I gained some good perspective for my review of this book.Hocus Pocus was, to me, infinitely better than the average dreck you might pick up in the bookstore. I think it would hold its own against most of of the top ten bestsellers at any given moment (for the thoughtful reader, not necessarily for the airplane readers). But I've learned from what little I've started to explore of his older books that Hocus Pocus is really just average for Vonnegut. Yes, this is average for him. This is homeostasis. This is no insult at all. His average is still so very much better than most books out there. But seeing as how it's his average, I'd say it's a great place to start in on his writing. This book is a great way for any curious reader to introduce themselves to Vonnegut. No need to throw yourselves into his greatest hits right away. I personally don't think you can go wrong picking up anything by the man.read more
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I have read a lot of Vonnegut, and Hocus Pocus is pretty typical in its anti-war, social satire of the world we live in. However, I found it to be atypical in that it is much more cynical than the other Vonnegut novels that I have read. That isn't to say that all of his novels aren't cynical, but Hocus Pocus finds a Vonnegut that has almost written off the world.Through his protagonist, Eugene Debs Hartke, he pokes fun at the idea that we are somehow intelligent creatures, "the ruling class," and the idea that there is a god. Then, he turns around and has his character make decisions out of fear that their might actually be a Judgment Day and portrays certain members of "the ruling class" in a positive light. He even has one of his characters point out towards the end that a particularly pointed characterizations of Yale and other ruling class universities "might have been a little harsh."Basically, Vonnegut is cynical but inconsistent in the viewpoints expressed in this book. He comes across as the satirical muckraker who has suddenly realized that he might not have all the answers. He is an atheist, but we should be careful just in case there is a god. The ruling class is made up of plantation owners forcing the rest of us into slavery, but that might be a little harsh. It's these frequent contradictions that make this such a fascinating read. No one has all fo the answers. Not even someone who has as spent as many years observing all of the things that make us what we are as Vonnegut had.read more
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Hocus Pocus is a hodge podge of curiously disjointed bits of thought undeniably arranged in a flowing order originally written on bits of paper and post-it notes. A despicably likeable main character stuck in a bureaucratic mess forces him to confess his delightfully funny past actions in vain hopes of keeping his cushy job. Lots of random humor kept me on my toes.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The same amusing and lovable cynicism as usual: You would think it would get old, but it doesn't. We will miss this truly humane humanist.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It's the story of a man facing death who is slowly retelling his life upon scraps of paper. There is an underlying humor that makes you both pity and sympathize with him. And in the end, he seems almost to measure his life not in days but in people he killed and women he slept with, which in the end...might be how we all measure our lives. The small things don't stick...they don't matter. The people who die, the people you love, they are what make you.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is the first Vonnegut novel I've read and enjoyed it to the point of wanting to read more of his work. I enjoyed the observations of his main character though I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it's because it seemed more like an editorial of American life than a story.read more
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Interesting. Fun. And best of all...bizarre. R.I.P. Kurt, your readers miss you.read more
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True Vonnegut style, with some humorous moments, but truly a bitter book -- I was so depressed on finishing it. Yes, there are a lot of things that don't work in America, but this book was so full of hate for American things that I have to reciprocate with an equal amount of dislike.read more
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I'd read the book before in German but got my hands on an English copy now. I read it shortly after reading on the news that Kurt Vonnegut died. He definitely is the greatest writer of the 20th century for me and I love his stories, his style idiosyncrasies, the way he manages to convey despair about the state of the world with humour. He's up in heaven now with Douglas Adams :-)read more
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Inside this mess is a good story: a Vietnam vet with a sex addiction worked at an odd college that was next to a huge prison. Due to the addiction he was fired, and went to work at the prison. There was an escape, and the quirky college was overrun by inmates, and our "hero" was blamed. I usually don't give away so many plot details in my reviews, but this plot was not important to Vonnegut when he wrote the story. What was important? Satire, social commentary, and other intellectual stuff that does not impress me, but know others will enjoy. I did enjoy the piece about "The Protocols of the Elders of Tralfamadore," and the stuck elevator/coming home from the Vietnam War analogy.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If you’ve read Vonnegut, you’ll already know his distinct blend of irony and satire. If you’ve never read him, this is a good place to start. The humor in the narrative had me laughing out loud, while at the same time cringing from the truth conveyed.I’ll leave you with the last line of the book to give you a taste (don’t worry, it’s pretty much impossible to ruin a Vonnegut book by explaining the plot or looking at the last page first):"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe."How true.read more
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Sometimes, you may be tempted to feel that, once you’ve read one Vonnegut novel you have read them all. Do not fall in that trap. Yes, he uses many of the same tools and tricks. Yes, he even uses some of his favorites from other books (Tralfamadore reappears briefly in this novel.) Yes, he continues to brush with science fiction even though he refuses to be called a science fiction writer. But that is just a man who has found the style that is his own - and is continuing to explore the many ways it works.In other words, each Vonnegut novel feels comfortable, yet still amazes. This one is no exceptionThe book is a collection of the notes Eugene Hartke has written while waiting for trial in the library of the college where he used to work. They are written on any scrap of paper he can find, so some are paragraphs long – others are single words. This is the conceit Vonnegut uses so he can write in his typically disjointed, synchronistic way. We eventually learn of Hartke’s time working in the college, his eventually firing, his time working in the nearby prison, and how he responds to the prison break that takes over the town and the college. Hartke also explores his own past, including his time in Vietnam. This allows Vonnegut to speak to one of his favorite passions – the problems with war. But never underestimate Vonnegut. He does not write about the horrors of war to speak badly about war; he is speaking about the broader issue of the ways people mistreat people. And that is very evident throughout this book.There is a cast of memorable people and weird events that, as only Vonnegut can do, gel perfectly. And it is set in the very near future so, while things seem almost normal, there are subtle little shots (e.g. prisons are now segregated, the Japanese are running most of the country, the militia is the only thing keeping any control, Brooklyn may well have tried to secede) that remind you that Vonnegut is manipulating the universe to his own ends.One last note – book blurbs are always fascinating. This book has many that refer to the book being hilarious and a scream. Reading these quotes, one expects to spend the entire reading experience laughing out loud. I’m sorry, that is not Vonnegut. Rather, Vonnegut is satiric comedy that will keep you smiling while being fed the sermon. This is one more of his lessons that goes down very well.read more
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My favorite of all of his works. If you are a Vonnegut fan then this is a must read.read more
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Loved this book. Interesting story written in Vonnegut's original style, but there is also some important commentary about the Vietnam war.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
the more vonnegut i read, the more i enjoy him! i have to admit, however, i don't always get 100% of the satire and refrences- but i got enough of it to understand most of it! i liked how i never really knew where the story was going and how it kept me on my toes. this is one of his newer novels, but it still had the same great story telling. i really liked the ending- it was well deserved and left me satisfied. (and i love how both john irving and joseph heller are quoted on the cover!- you know it's a good book when two of your favorite authors say so!!!)
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I will preface my review by saying that Kurt Vonnegut is not for everyone. Personally, I love the subject matter he writes about and his style. However, I know quite a few people that wouldn't be able to get through two chapters of this.Hocus Pocus doesn't have much of a traditional plot; if anything, it's more of a character study of Hartke, the main character in the novel. Like the summary says, it's a fictional autobiography. For some readers, it may be slow going because of this, but there's plenty of action and drama to keep interest.It's hard to give a review of Hocus Pocus, because it's so different from most novels. I will say that I loved it and found it highly entertaining. Vonnegut tackles a lot of issues in this novel -- environmental concerns that are eerily accurate for a book written in 1990, the effects that war has on a person and a nation, bureaucratic power games, etc. I liked the numerology aspects that are included, though the ending gave me a bit of a headache trying to figure out; I'm sure it's much easier when you're actually reading the book rather than listening to it being read. Even though it's definitely depressing (which is to be expected from Vonnegut), I found myself chuckling at many of Hartke's observations and at the weird things that have happened in his life.There was one thing and one thing only that bothered me about Hocus Pocus. There were quite a few references to Slaughter-House Five. Hartke mentions "some author" who wrote about Trafalmadorians and goes on to mention them multiple times throughout the second half of the novel. I didn't think these references added anything to the story -- in fact, they took me out of the story because I kept wondering why Vonnegut couldn't think of anything else to reference besides his own novel.George Ralph's performance is astounding. His tone is perfect for this book. For the humorous, satirical parts, he speaks as if he's serious, but somehow still makes it known that the words aren't meant to be taken literally. Hartke came alive for me because of Ralph's narration, and I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed Hocus Pocus as much had I not listened to this audiobook.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Hocus Pocus, as its title interestingly suggests, is a novel that works its magic on you in an entirely unsuspecting way.Contrary to the many ecstatic reviews on the cover, there are two things this book is not: it is not laugh-out-loud funny (though the humor is sharp and frequently employed), and it is not anything like a "resurgence" (the novel prior to this, Bluebeard, came out just three years before this one, a typical gestation period for Vonnegut). It's a fairly consistent work among his works in that it builds itself around a multilayered narrative that evolves through various threads and across various times and locations, all of which are centered around the to-be-notorious Tarkington Prison (née College).These threads are especially complex and random in the early goings, which make this novel somewhat hard to get into. But once the rhythm is established and the narrative dives headlong into the disastrous prison riot that overtakes the college and its small town, it becomes clear that the rhythm of the storytelling is by no means an accident: each revelation is perfectly planned and produces its desired effect.Often funny, heartbreaking, and filled with his trademark wry commentary on the foibles of human nature, Hocus Pocus eventually does hit the mark.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I can't say that this is one of Kurt Vonnegut's best works. To be honest, it's rather more depressing than many of his other novels - and they're a rather depressing lot anyway! Unlike his Bluebeard, though, this book lacks a deeply moving and somehow uplifting ending. It lacks a sense of resolution...perhaps that's what Vonnegut intended. It probably is.

But even so, Vonnegut retained his gifts as a writer. So although I found myself frequently feeling a little depressed by this book, I also couldn't stop reading it - and I'll eventually read it again.

One thing that's almost shocking is the accuracy of Vonnegut's "future" (2001) America. Environmental collapse (from glaciers instead of global warming, but close enough), an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, a desperate energy crisis, booming prison populations and the privatization of prisons, the wholesale purchase of American businesses and properties by foreign businesses, chronic unemployment caused by the demise of American industry, no healthcare for the poor...and that's just from memory, I know there was more. The seeds of all these trends were not only planted but sprouting back in 1990 when Vonnegut wrote this, but even so he paints a pitiless and frighteningly accurate picture.

It's nice to see a few of his old favorite characters in the book; it gives a feeling of continuity. And he retained his wicked wit and imagination. It just seems that they were being overshadowed by the essential bleakness of Vonnegut's worldview - a worldview which, I fear, was only too clear.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Hocus Pocus introduced me to many various now-familiar aspects of KV's writing. The many colorful characters, the unimpressive schlub protagonists who are in so many ways their own antagonists, the incredibly intriguing and imaginative scenes that he paints so effortlessly (a child in Hiroshima who bends over to pick up a ball in a ditch feels a woosh of warm air across his back as he does so, then stands up to see a wasteland of devastation from a nuclear bomb), the witticisms that could and should be taken as genuine advice ("profanity and obscenity entitle people who don't want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you"), all marinated in his own distinct brand of humor.I was a late-comer to Vonnegut, this being the first book I read by him. I finished it roughly a month before his death, and it saddened me to have discovered such an amazing author so near his twilight. I was saddened still more by reaching backwards through his career, and in doing so I gained some good perspective for my review of this book.Hocus Pocus was, to me, infinitely better than the average dreck you might pick up in the bookstore. I think it would hold its own against most of of the top ten bestsellers at any given moment (for the thoughtful reader, not necessarily for the airplane readers). But I've learned from what little I've started to explore of his older books that Hocus Pocus is really just average for Vonnegut. Yes, this is average for him. This is homeostasis. This is no insult at all. His average is still so very much better than most books out there. But seeing as how it's his average, I'd say it's a great place to start in on his writing. This book is a great way for any curious reader to introduce themselves to Vonnegut. No need to throw yourselves into his greatest hits right away. I personally don't think you can go wrong picking up anything by the man.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I have read a lot of Vonnegut, and Hocus Pocus is pretty typical in its anti-war, social satire of the world we live in. However, I found it to be atypical in that it is much more cynical than the other Vonnegut novels that I have read. That isn't to say that all of his novels aren't cynical, but Hocus Pocus finds a Vonnegut that has almost written off the world.Through his protagonist, Eugene Debs Hartke, he pokes fun at the idea that we are somehow intelligent creatures, "the ruling class," and the idea that there is a god. Then, he turns around and has his character make decisions out of fear that their might actually be a Judgment Day and portrays certain members of "the ruling class" in a positive light. He even has one of his characters point out towards the end that a particularly pointed characterizations of Yale and other ruling class universities "might have been a little harsh."Basically, Vonnegut is cynical but inconsistent in the viewpoints expressed in this book. He comes across as the satirical muckraker who has suddenly realized that he might not have all the answers. He is an atheist, but we should be careful just in case there is a god. The ruling class is made up of plantation owners forcing the rest of us into slavery, but that might be a little harsh. It's these frequent contradictions that make this such a fascinating read. No one has all fo the answers. Not even someone who has as spent as many years observing all of the things that make us what we are as Vonnegut had.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Hocus Pocus is a hodge podge of curiously disjointed bits of thought undeniably arranged in a flowing order originally written on bits of paper and post-it notes. A despicably likeable main character stuck in a bureaucratic mess forces him to confess his delightfully funny past actions in vain hopes of keeping his cushy job. Lots of random humor kept me on my toes.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The same amusing and lovable cynicism as usual: You would think it would get old, but it doesn't. We will miss this truly humane humanist.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It's the story of a man facing death who is slowly retelling his life upon scraps of paper. There is an underlying humor that makes you both pity and sympathize with him. And in the end, he seems almost to measure his life not in days but in people he killed and women he slept with, which in the end...might be how we all measure our lives. The small things don't stick...they don't matter. The people who die, the people you love, they are what make you.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is the first Vonnegut novel I've read and enjoyed it to the point of wanting to read more of his work. I enjoyed the observations of his main character though I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it's because it seemed more like an editorial of American life than a story.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Interesting. Fun. And best of all...bizarre. R.I.P. Kurt, your readers miss you.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
True Vonnegut style, with some humorous moments, but truly a bitter book -- I was so depressed on finishing it. Yes, there are a lot of things that don't work in America, but this book was so full of hate for American things that I have to reciprocate with an equal amount of dislike.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'd read the book before in German but got my hands on an English copy now. I read it shortly after reading on the news that Kurt Vonnegut died. He definitely is the greatest writer of the 20th century for me and I love his stories, his style idiosyncrasies, the way he manages to convey despair about the state of the world with humour. He's up in heaven now with Douglas Adams :-)
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Inside this mess is a good story: a Vietnam vet with a sex addiction worked at an odd college that was next to a huge prison. Due to the addiction he was fired, and went to work at the prison. There was an escape, and the quirky college was overrun by inmates, and our "hero" was blamed. I usually don't give away so many plot details in my reviews, but this plot was not important to Vonnegut when he wrote the story. What was important? Satire, social commentary, and other intellectual stuff that does not impress me, but know others will enjoy. I did enjoy the piece about "The Protocols of the Elders of Tralfamadore," and the stuck elevator/coming home from the Vietnam War analogy.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If you’ve read Vonnegut, you’ll already know his distinct blend of irony and satire. If you’ve never read him, this is a good place to start. The humor in the narrative had me laughing out loud, while at the same time cringing from the truth conveyed.I’ll leave you with the last line of the book to give you a taste (don’t worry, it’s pretty much impossible to ruin a Vonnegut book by explaining the plot or looking at the last page first):"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe."How true.
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Sometimes, you may be tempted to feel that, once you’ve read one Vonnegut novel you have read them all. Do not fall in that trap. Yes, he uses many of the same tools and tricks. Yes, he even uses some of his favorites from other books (Tralfamadore reappears briefly in this novel.) Yes, he continues to brush with science fiction even though he refuses to be called a science fiction writer. But that is just a man who has found the style that is his own - and is continuing to explore the many ways it works.In other words, each Vonnegut novel feels comfortable, yet still amazes. This one is no exceptionThe book is a collection of the notes Eugene Hartke has written while waiting for trial in the library of the college where he used to work. They are written on any scrap of paper he can find, so some are paragraphs long – others are single words. This is the conceit Vonnegut uses so he can write in his typically disjointed, synchronistic way. We eventually learn of Hartke’s time working in the college, his eventually firing, his time working in the nearby prison, and how he responds to the prison break that takes over the town and the college. Hartke also explores his own past, including his time in Vietnam. This allows Vonnegut to speak to one of his favorite passions – the problems with war. But never underestimate Vonnegut. He does not write about the horrors of war to speak badly about war; he is speaking about the broader issue of the ways people mistreat people. And that is very evident throughout this book.There is a cast of memorable people and weird events that, as only Vonnegut can do, gel perfectly. And it is set in the very near future so, while things seem almost normal, there are subtle little shots (e.g. prisons are now segregated, the Japanese are running most of the country, the militia is the only thing keeping any control, Brooklyn may well have tried to secede) that remind you that Vonnegut is manipulating the universe to his own ends.One last note – book blurbs are always fascinating. This book has many that refer to the book being hilarious and a scream. Reading these quotes, one expects to spend the entire reading experience laughing out loud. I’m sorry, that is not Vonnegut. Rather, Vonnegut is satiric comedy that will keep you smiling while being fed the sermon. This is one more of his lessons that goes down very well.
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My favorite of all of his works. If you are a Vonnegut fan then this is a must read.
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