GodBlessYouMrRosewater(Vonnegut)In case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd.  How big a nerd? Well, remember those summer reading lists from when you were a kid? I’ve assigned myself one and it’s a doozy.  I want to be able to say by the end of August that I’ve read all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  I subtracted the few that I’d already read and am crossing the rest off one by one.  I’ll post reviews as I go and you can track my overall progress here.

The driving force of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is fairly simple: money.  Eliot Rosewater is an eccentric millionaire (which is still a lot in 1965) who heads a philanthropic foundation originally created as a tax shelter for his family money.  A lawyer in the massive law firm that heads up his family’s affairs, Norman Mushari, plots to have Eliot declared insane and thus, by the foundation’s charter, revoked as president and replaced by a distant cousin.  Mushari’s scheme is to siphon off a portion of the Rosewater fortune during this change of power. There’s even a cameo by Vonnegut’s beloved pornographic science-fiction writer, Kilgore Trout.

Overall, I was not too impressed with this one.  It certainly has some classic moments of Vonnegut humor—Rosewater’s preferred method of serving the community is a combination of volunteer firefighting and one and one charity in the small county of Indiana where his family originally made its wealth (a really great moment is a phone conversation with a man contemplating suicide and Eliot’s haggling with him over how much it will cost to keep the guy from killing himself) and Vonneguts depiction of the distant cousin chosen to usurp Eliot is a boob who has a pretty comedic form of middle-class existentialism.  We see the same themes covered in previous Vonnegut novels, identity, destiny, social status, etc., and it begins to feel like he’s beating a dead horse.  There is some interesting ground covered dealing with loneliness in American society and the overall use of consumerism and money to feel accepted and even loved.  What I found more interesting is the how the novel moves through the plot via a series of interlocking shorter stories. The narrative jumps from scenes in the present action to scenes depicted in reports, letters, recounted memories, and dialogue. It gives a disjointed feel at times, but I think it works.

I also couldn’t help come away with a sense that Vonnegut really cannot stand people born into wealth.  Take this with the protagonists of the Sirens of Titan and it seems to be a drum he can’t help beating over and over—people who didn’t earn their money, especially if it’s a great amount, can’t properly function in society.  They don’t understand the everyday trials and tribulations of us commoners and are thus alien to the majority of people. It’s an idea that doesn’t take much effort to agree with, just look at Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian ( I’m pretty sure neither understands how to balance a checkbook or pay a cell phone bill).  Mix that with the chronic American fantasy of “if I had a million dollars,” and society does seem pretty comical and insane.  Still, while reading this I found myself thinking more than once, “Jesus, Kurt, let it go already!”

[Pic via Wikipedia.]