Sorry, I didn’t post anything last week.  I’ve been busy—in the words of the American thespian, Vince Vaughn: “It’s wedding season!” So my time has been spent between a bachelor party in Atlantic City, a wedding in Maine, getting a jump on work to take the time off, and then playing catch up once I got back to the office.  Thankfully, I was able to get some reading done in my travels and knocked two more titles off my summer reading list.

So let’s get to the double dose of Vonnegut: Galapágos and Deadeye Dick. At the center of both novels (written in the mid-eighties) lay catastrophic events.  For Galapágos, it’s the end of all human life (as we know it anyway), while for Deadeye Dick it’s the detonation of a neutron bomb in the heart of an American Midwestern city.

Galapagos(Vonnegut)Let’s start with Galapágos.  If you’re a big believer in intelligent design, or not very intelligent (ya see what I did there?), then I might need to explain the title. The Galápagos Islands are a cluster of islands around the equator, just off the coast of Ecuador.  They feature an exotic array of wild animals that developed on their own, separated from the rest of the world, and were the key inspiration for Darwin to form the concept of evolution (you’ll notice that I didn’t use the word “theory”).  The novel itself centers on a group of survivors of a worldwide crisis that have washed ashore on a Galapágos island and how their descendents become (over a million years) into the next stage of human evolution.  Don’t worry; I’m not giving anything away—Vonnegut (as per his usual MO) let’s the reader in on that particular plot point fairly early on.

And for the most part Galapágos plays to Vonnegut’s strengths.  Its themes allow him to riff on a variety of topics—a personal favorite is a handheld electronic translator that seems like it would be a technology godsend, but is absolutely useless to the survivors.  And even though most of the book is funny, it became a grueling read.  Because Vonnegut informs the reader on how it’s all going to end anyway, with precise details including which characters will die soon and which will make it to the island, so there’s no tension to draw you along.  I honestly had to force myself to finish the last 50 pages.  The only really interesting aspect, for me anyway, is how the narrative voice breaks through the fourth wall and acknowledge itself has an omniscient first person—a ghost with ties to another Vonnegut character that has appeared in his previous work.

9780385334174Next up, is Deadeye Dick, which I wouldn’t classify as a direct sequel to Breakfast of Champions but more as a spin off.  The majority of its action takes place in Midland City, Ohio and features many of the same characters as Breakfast (including a major scene with Dwayne Hoover).  The title is the nickname for the novel’s main character, Rudy Waltz, which was assigned to him after a tragic incident as a young boy.  Waltz narrates the story from the hotel he owns with his brother in Haiti.  The plot goes all the way from how his aristocratic wannabe artist and Nazi-sympathizing father met his muted wallflower of a mother to Rudy’s own life as an outcast/night pharmacist/failed playwright in Midland City and how owning a hotel in Hatti saved his life.

The book explores ideas of guilt and loss fairly well and does a fantastic job of navigating  the concept of moral accountability—one scene in particular, in which Rudy’s father has a full blown manic episode of taking responsibility for what his child has done, is a tour de force of  humor, sadness, egomania, and so much more.  It all pays off with the previously mentioned catastrophic event and the idea that, except for Hitler (who also makes an appearance in the book) and of course Bin Laden (but this was written before 9/11) we can never really find that one person responsible for a national/worldwide tragedy.  One final thing from Deadeye Dick that I want to cover is the theme of failure as an artist.  Vonnegut really hits the nail on the head on this one, particularly in regards to something I’ve recently discovered in my own life—it’s easier to be poseur than to actually try.  Despite the fact that it’s a cliché doesn’t make it any less true: if you never really make an attempt at something, you’ll never fail.

Alright, that’s two down and here I am with only three books to go before I’ve read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, but with less than a week till my deadline of September 1st.  This is the story of my life.  It always comes down to the wire with me rushing to get my work done.  But I’m going to make it without any extensions.  I’ll just plow through the last three from now until Monday.  I can do this.

[Pics via Wikipedia and biblio.com]

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