HocusPocus(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 read before and am crossing the rest off one by one.  I’ll post reviews as I go and you can track my overall progress here.

Alright, so here I am in the home stretch.  It’s now the last month of summer and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little behind.  After this entry, I have five novels left with three weeks to read them; daunting, but completely doable.  If worse comes to worst and it doesn’t look like I’m going to make my deadline of the first day in September, I’ll push it back to the day after Labor Day, which a friend recently pointed out to me is when summer is “officially” over.   Anyway, let ‘s get to this latest review, which is…

Hocus Pocus was recommend to me by an acquaintance after I told him about my summer reading project.  “It’s my favorite,” he said—a surprise since most people will claim Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle as being their personal favorite.  Like a lot of the other books I’ve read so far, the cover for Hocus Pocus was emblazoned with the phrase “classic Vonnegut!” and the novel itself utilized many of the standard Vonnegut tropes and themes I’ve come to expect—non-linear narrative structure, heavy foreshadowing, stupid rich people, even a thinly veiled Kilgore Trout reference.  What surprises me most is that I still really enjoyed it.

As seen to some degree in previous books, Vonnegut writes in a broken up style again—though this time in the utmost extreme.  In fact, he inserts an editor’s note on the first page informing the reader that “the author of this book did not have access to writing paper of uniform size and quality” and thus it was written in snippets “on everything from brown wrapping paper to the backs of business cards.”  Lines cut through the text and separate it into sections, which are about three to a page.

The story’s narrator/main character is Eugene Debs Hartke, a Vietnam veteran who has taken Vonnegut’s own advice to “make love often” (he screws anything that moves) and was once a professor at Tarkington College, a post-graduate school specifically for learning disable children of the wealthy and elite. Hartke narrates while a prisoner on the Tarkington campus, which is now a prison.  Taking place in the then near future (2001), this is an America that has been bought out by foreign companies (much like the RAMJAC Corporation in Jailbird).  And he tells of how he went to West Point, then to Vietnam, ended up teaching at Tarkington, got fired, got hired teaching at a prison owned by a Japanese company, wound up back at Tarkington when it became a prison, and in his lifetime has ended up killing the exact same amount of people he’s had sex with (which is a lot in both cases).

Although you wouldn’t think so, this is the most political of any Vonnegut novel I’ve read so far. Sure, his left of center views have always come through his previous work, but here it is more overt. Through a combination of factors, Vonnegut covers his view on pretty much everything under the American political sun: war, race, the penal system, imperialism, globalization, drugs, public relations, media, big business, etc.  One character, Helen Doe, is introduced near the end of the story and only seems to exist in order to spout theories on American class warfare.  Another, Jason Wilder, is a detailed amalgamation of every conservative media figure that has and will ever exist, right down to the pride of being so damn ignorant about the rest of the world.  It all feeds into Vonnegut’s message that, whether we like it or not, our lives are influenced by the political in some way or another; from the war that we watch on television to the job we take—it’s all caused by that behind-the-scenes “hocus pocus.”

[Pic via Wikipedia]