I did not expect to love this book so much, but it really hit me pretty hard. I liked Sirens of Titan by Vonnegut just fine, it was fun, and I really liked Slaughterhouse-Five, but I didn’t connect to it emotionally like I did God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Near the beginning of the book, there’s a moment when Eliot Rosewater is thinking about Vonnegut’s stand-in writer character, Kilgore Trout, who is Eliot’s favorite author (see quote below, which also applies to sci-fi and fantasy writers in general) and he thinks that a sff author has never before written a book about money. Combined with, well, everything else in this book, it’s clear that’s what Vonnegut is doing with this book. It’s first and foremost a book about how money and the pursuit or lack of it corrupts the human spirit.
The “plot” here, if we can call it that (not a complaint!) is that Eliot Rosewater is the heir to an American fortune and is currently in control of millions of dollars held by the Rosewater Foundation. But Eliot’s approach to distributing the funds is not like those of his ancestors. Eliot sees his fortune as a burden, and spends all of this time either putting out fires with the Volunteer Fire Department, or answering calls on his little black phone, where the townspeople of Rosewater know they can call him at any hour and be treated to kindness and compassion, and perhaps a handwritten check. A lawyer working for the firm that handles the Foundation decides to try and prove that Eliot is insane, so that the running of the fortune will be turned over to his distant cousin, and the lawyer will profit by taking money from the transaction.
Eliot is such a great character. He cares so much. It’s so poignant to watch Vonnegut write this character who has tried to see the suffering of those around him, and the only way he can do that is by blunting all of that feeling with alcohol. Eliot, like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, is a WWII veteran, and his experience there has shaped him into the person he is today, someone with a reverence for life, who is burdened by the suffering he sees around him, and his part in that.
I’m making it sound sort of trite, but the experience of reading it is not that at all, with Vonnegut’s black humor, that’s undercut by a sorrow and a love for humanity as he wishes it could be. The absurdity he creates in his writing, and the words he uses just make me feel so many feelings, it’s hard to put them into words.
I’m so glad I read this. New favorite.
“I love you sons of bitches. You’re all I read any more. You’re the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.”
– – –
“In time, almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering, and probably medicine, too. So—if we can’t find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, rub them out.”
– – –
“Tell me one good thing about those people Eliot helps.”
“I thought not.”
“It’s a secret thing,” she said, forced to argue, pleading for the argument to stop right there.
Without any notion of how merciless he was being, the Senator pressed on. “You’re among friends now—suppose you tell us what this great secret is.”
“The secret is that they’re human,” said Sylvia.”
[4.5 stars for some light dated elements (homophobia mostly), rounded up]