The Comfort of Foma

It's Book Club Blogger Day!

On tap this month is Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle courtesy of the lovely and ooooooh so bookishly minded Andrea of The Lighthouse Keeper fame.  If there is one person in the blogosphere responsible for making my "to read" list a mile long, it is Andrea.  So when you're in the market for some great book suggestions (and also your daily dose of just plain pretty images), The Lighthouse Keeper is where it's at... consider yourself warned.

Now, on to my review. (IF you can really call what you are about to read a review.  And I'm not sure you can.)

Several months ago as part of my attempt to complete My 50 Must Reads I tackled Slaughterhouse Five.  When I put the finished book down for the last time I struggled with knowing how to write an appropriate "review."  And when I say I struggled, I mean I struggled for weeks.  This was my first experience with the writings of Kurt Vonnegut.  I felt completely unable to appropriately put into words what I thought about his writing style or the book itself.  I was blocked. It wasn't that I didn't know whether or not I liked it or whether or not I would recommend it.  The answer to those questions was simple, I did and I would. But I couldn't quite put my finger on what I wanted to say and so I just kept my mouth shut.

Enter Cat's Cradle.

Once again, I've read the book.  I enjoyed it.  I would recommend it.  But write  review on it? I'm intimidated.  I've discovered that Vonnegut's work does what many have tried to do but rarely succeed.  Vonnegut shuts me up.  He has a knack for leaving me at a loss for words. Unfortunately for you, my commitment to BCB trumps my scattered thoughts and inability to nail a coherent opinion about Vonnegut's writing. Try to contain your enthusiasm and buckle up I'm not sure where this is headed.

I can say, after my second Vonnegut experience, I'm starting to understand why I'm hesitant to write about my reading experience.  Basically, after reading his books I'm uncertain about my own opinions. My thoughts are all over the place. His biting wit and literary point of view intimidate me.  I finish a book and think I know what he's trying to "say." But I'm never 100% sure.  I keep waiting for him to clearly fall on one side of an argument, any argument, but he never does.  Instead, he skewers both sides.  No one and no point of view is safe or sacred.  Vonnegut is an equal opportunity satirist. I find that pleasantly uncomfortable as a reader because suddenly there is no longer easy clarity.  I'm forced to question who I am and what I believe. His books make me work for it.  And to make the work a bit more difficult, his narrators do NOT seem to be trustworthy.  I'm never sure if I'm supposed to be rooting for them or against them. I constantly question whether what they are saying is insightful or just plain nonsense.  There's a clever playfulness to the prose that hints, "Perhaps the presented truth isn't truth at all."

My confusion hasn't been lessened by the fact that each of these books dealt with charged topics - war, politics, spirituality and the condition of the human heart.  These are subjects where as a reader, I expect the author to voice a solid opinion. But neither book made a crystal clear declaration {to me} where Vonnegut the author stood.  Instead I came away from both novels believing Vonnegut was just trying to tell me that, "This life is utterly ridiculous and is only further complicated by the complex insanity of the human beings with whom we interact."  He seems to scream, "NEITHER SIDE IS RIGHT. STOP TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT!" I can't help but wonder if Vonnegut's ultimate goal is simply to lampoon any attempt we humans make to understand, clarify, or fully comprehend life.  Is it perhaps that his stand is that we should never take a firm stand?

On the surface it would seem as though the theme of Cat's Cradle is the ridiculousness of faith and the naïveté of those who subscribe to any organized religion or scientifically based worldview.  Yet the book's dedication reads, "Nothing in this book is true.  'Live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.' The Books of Bokonon. I:5."  Does anyone else recognize the paradox he's suggesting?  He's basically saying, "Hitch your pony to a wagon you know is probably going nowhere."  What???  That is just crazy talk. Right? 

But here's the thing.  I kind of love it.

Vonnegut's writing appeals to that part of me that remains unsure about life.  He celebrates the truth that we are most wise when we recognize how ignorant we are.  Cat's Cradle is the celebration of faith without logical certainty.  More accurately, I read it as the celebration of faith in what's totally illogical.  But, I didn't come to that conclusion easily.  And still as I write this, I'm not sure that is what Vonnegut was trying to say.  But it turns out, that uncertainty is precisely why I enjoyed the book.  Reading Vonnegut, for me, has been less about what he's saying and more about the process of figuring out what I'm hearing him say.

Well, so much for being at a loss for words...

If you're curious what others have to say about Cat's Cradle you should check out The Daily Snapshot for the Book Club Blogger's reviews.

But as long as you're here, what's your take on Vonnegut? Love him? Hate him? And why???????