I nearly always struggle reviewing classics, or if not yet “classic,” the darlings of mid-century American literature. They’re beloved and enduring for a reason, and yet, a lot of them, being “of their time,” may not hold up well or for whatever reason fail to command the attention of the modern reader. A lot of people will take that as an excuse to belittle the modern reader. I will not.
I will also struggle with reading someone like Vonnegut, whose work implies layers upon layers of meaning and about whom people tend to philosophize. Once upon a time, I was an AP Literature student who combed through these layers and wrote pontificating essays of my own distilling every turn of phrase to its simplest explanation. Now, I am a burned-out post-academic quasi-adult who reads primarily for pleasure and to stave off becoming emotionally consumed by the void of my professional non-accomplishment. It may go without saying that I read books with heavy themes only sparingly to preserve my fragile constitution.
Which brings me to Cat’s Cradle, a book I’ve always “intended” to read, in that way that often means I’ll never get around to it. That I finally did speaks more to the fact that I recently “discovered” audiobooks and so can listen to books that I’d be too anxious to sit still and read, than it means that I’ve rediscovered a significant measure of intellectual curiosity. The good news is that Cat’s Cradle, even when absorbed on a superficial level, without deconstructing the “layers,” is rather enjoyable. It’s wryly funny, musing on science, religion, humanism, etc., and, apparently, it’s heavily influenced by his actual life. This, of course, is what Vonnegut is known for and does so well at: constructing biting satire that so deftly mixes realism and science fiction that you’re not sure if the book is straight sci-fi or if the narrator’s obvious psychosis is its own lesson.
For any more serious Vonnegut fans reading this: I’ve officially read the (arguably) best known books, Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five. What next?