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Saturday, April 26, 2008

In other words, this novel is not a foursquare, detailed, and plausible construction, and shouldn't be judged as one. It is a funny and despairing vision of the last judgment done in comic-book style, and Vonnegut's modesty as an artist combines with his dismay as a man to prevent him from lavishing too much careful portraiture on people not long for a world that's about to crack up anyway. It arrives like the punch line to one of Vonnegut's jokes when you realise that the most realistic feature of Cat's Cradle is the idea of a technology capable of destroying civilisation in a day.
Rereading Cat's Cradle, in the Guardian.
In a happier world, Cat's Cradle might remain a period piece, an anthology of 1960s nightmares and fantasies out of place in a new world order of international law, shared prosperity, and spreading peace. How nice it would be to return to this novel (one I first read, as an adolescent, just before the Berlin wall came down), and discover that the old fears had melted away, without any new terrors to take their place. No such luck. Reading it, you want to reject Vonnegut's pessimism as too easy and comprehensive, like the sour negativity of adolescents - always Vonnegut's best and most devoted readers - but it's not evident that the 21st century will grant us very strong grounds on which to do so. Eight years in, even the silly coinages of Bokonon seem to have taken on, for Americans at least, a certain utility and precision:

Duffle, in the Bokononist sense,
is the destiny of thousands upon
thousands of persons when
placed in the hands of a stuppa.
A stuppa is a fogbound child.