Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cat's Cradle

As I alluded to in my last blog post, I had a minor setback on my 84-book journey. Last week, my hard drive completely crashed on my computer and I lost everything on it. Since I’m very, very smart…I also didn’t back anything up. As a result, I lost my reading schedule, all my in-progress blog posts, and all the notes I’ve taken on the books I already finished (including this post, that’s 8 books).

I learned a valuable lesson in backing up – but also in completing these posts in a more timely fashion. I keep saying “I’m going to post more”, but I actually mean it this time. It will keep me on point to get to 84 (and 42 by the end of the month), and it will also keep this blog active, which I’m beginning to recognize is just as necessary as actively reading.

With that in mind, book 20 (!!) of Project 84 is:


Cat’s Cradle

Cat’s Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut

Yeah, that’s right, I’ve never read Cat’s Cradle. Considering the classic books I hadn’t read until recently (Brave New World, 1984, Slaughterhouse Five), I feel like there’s a specific period that I just didn’t cover in my studies or in my personal reading. I did read Breakfast of Champions years ago, but I believe that was for pleasure reading in high school – you know, back when I did pleasure reading.

So I’d never read Cat’s Cradle, but I remembered liking the little bit of Vonnegut I had read, so I thought I would give it a try. And I am very glad I did.

First, the plot…as it were. Anyone who has read this book knows that trying to break down the plot may be a futile effort, but I figure I can at least give it a try. Cat’s Cradle begins as the story of the narrator, John, seeking out various notable people to write a book about what they were doing when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. His interviews lead him to the family of Felix Hoenikker, a physicist who was part of the team that created the atomic bomb.

In his interviews with the family, he discovers that Felix also created a substance known as “Ice Nine”, which has the ability to freeze any water it comes into contact with. The substance is powerful – and has the capacity to, potentially, “freeze the earth”. John follows two of the Hoenikker children to the island of San Lorenzo, where he is introduced to the third child, the love of his life, and a strange religion known as “Bokonism”.

Part of me doesn’t want to reveal the rest of the plot as not to spoil the book, but the other part just doesn’t want to waste time and energy on that which is not integral to appreciating the novel. Cat’s Cradle isn’t about the plot. Yes, the plot exists, but it’s merely a container for the greater points that Vonnegut is making. Points about religion, society, war, violence, politics.

When I finished reading Cat’s Cradle, I called my father, who I know had read it in the past, and the first words out of my mouth were, “What the hell is Cat’s Cradle about?” I didn’t get it. I didn’t get what Vonnegut was trying to say, how I was supposed to interpret what I just read. Was it an allegory? Was it satire? Was it a failed attempt at a character-driven narrative? I had to take a step back to really recognize the novel for what it was, and appreciate what Vonnegut was trying to do.

It’s not important what Cat’s Cradle is about. What’s important is what it means.

Bokonism isn’t meant to be a realistic plot device. It’s a symbol. It represents all religion. It represents what is important about religion, and the positive aspects of what religion is. Ice Nine isn’t meant to be a realistic chemical weapon – it’s meant to demonstrate that what is most deadly in the world isn’t that which makes the most noise. It is the silent, small, slow killers that prove to be the most deadly. Those are what will, ultimately, lead to our destruction, if you follow that point to its logical conclusion.

In other words – to quote T.S. Eliot:

“This is the way the world ends…not with a bang but a whimper.”

I hate that I lost all of my notes on this book. Not only because I know I had so much more to say, but because I wrote down all sorts of passages that I wanted to break down. But, really, I think it might have been a good thing that I lost my literary interpretations. Because I don’t know that what made me respond to Cat’s Cradle was Vonnegut’s literary prowess. Instead, the appealing, captivating part of this book was the way it made me feel. And the way it made me think.

It’s not news that Vonnegut is an amazing writer. His use of language, word play, and symbolism is second to none, and the way he spins a tale is compelling even when you don’t know what’s going on. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I shouldn’t have been relieved that I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help myself.

Clearly, I would recommend Cat’s Cradle. I’m sure so many of you read it in class, or on your own years ago, but if you haven’t, you should pick it up. I’m now very excited for when I get to read Slaughterhouse Five later in the project, and I’m beginning to wonder why I didn’t read more Vonnegut sooner.

***

Another post, and a positive one at that! 20 books down on Project 84, and I’m enjoying the process again. I love sharing what I’ve been reading, and I hope you all enjoy reading it. And, believe it or not, my next entry is already completed – so you will have another review tomorrow to enjoy.

Next Review: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints by Dito Montiel (Estimated Posting Date: Thursday, June 5th)




**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Cat’s Cradle, published by Dell in 1969**

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