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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
ISBN: 9780795318627
List price: $8.99
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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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
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Reviews

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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
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.more
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