I haven’t read a Vonnegut since high school and thought it might be nice to revisit some of the “greats” this summer. I went into Cat’s Cradle cold, and while it was amusing at times and made some fine points, it was exactly what I expected a post-modern classic written by a man of his time to be….In a word: meh.
Our narrator starts on a quest to write a book about the day the Atomic Bomb hit Hiroshima, but instead ends up finding religion with a fatalist view of the world. We meet some caricatured characters, travel to a made up foreign island, have some standard dialogue standing around in a few exotic landscapes, and end with a world-ending disaster leading untimely to human futility. Vonnegut hits on some important themes like the structures of religion and government which he twists in amusing ways, and there a few quotes that are worth savoring. But for the most part, for satire and humor, I think Terry Pratchett has done it better. Pratchett’s Nation and The Last Continent cover similar themes to how Vonnegut is breaking down religion and governments in Cat’s Cradle, but the humor in Pratchett is far funnier, making the depth of the satire hit home much harder. Vonnegut feels more like he’s meandering towards the point, and only offhandedly.
I got what Vonnegut was doing, and craft wise, he builds a solid book; restating specific details about seemingly inconsequential things and having our narrator foreshadow things to come. We are prepared for the end, and we are not surprised by the end, which I feel was Vonnegut’s intent. But for all the nice craft and amiable narration, this book doesn’t really sit with you afterwards. Nothing in it makes you say “huh…..” And maybe this is because Vonnegut was one of the first to till this kind of ground and authors have spring-boarded after him expounding, honing, and perfecting.
Maybe Cat’s Cradle was profound in 1963 when no one else was writing this kind of novel, and maybe it still has merit for its craft, but as I find with many of the “greats,” I’ve always seemed to have read someone later who did it better.
3 stars for good craft and mild humor.