Book Review: Cat’s Cradle (1963)
I’ve read Cat’s Cradle about a dozen times now. After reading multiple philosophy books for work, I needed a break. The novel’s construction is notable. There are 127 chapters. Granted, these chapters are, on average, five pages long. The reason for discussing structure before content is to remark on the quick and sporadic representation of the overall story. The first-person limited point of view takes the reader through a journey of discovering the end of the world.
Cat’s Cradle is an R. Nichols favorite
“Call me Jonah”. The narrator, Jonah, is a journalist writing a book titled, The Day the World Ended with special attention on the atom bomb dropped on Japan in World War Two. The focus Jonah gives to the bomb leads him to the children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, the creator of the bomb. As Jonah uncovers more about the Hoenikker family, the purely scientific household is contrasted by the invention of a new religion, Bokononism. In The Books of Bokonon, Bokonon himself writes, “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies” (5). The commonality presented in Cat’s Cradle, between science and religion, is the inaccuracy and corruptibility of humans. In the end, Jonah writes about the true end of the world through the application of ICE-9, a chemical that will freeze all water.
I would rate this book Put It In The Queue. Of all of Vonnegut’s books, Cat’s Cradle, is not the most innovative or presents a complex integration of ideas. Other novels like Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions, or, the most common, Slaughterhouse Five, dig deep into the fundamental elements in the human psyche.
Add Cat’s Cradle to your reading list
Cat’s Cradle exceeds expectations because Vonnegut cleverly presents alternative notions about the existing social structures manifested in the world. For example, through the use of Bokononism, Jonah writes that the only thing Bokonon followers care about is man. The integration of ideas that reject the current model of reality is part of Vonnegut’s charm.
As the novel ends, Jonah meets Bokonon, still alive after ICE-9 has frozen the planet. Bokonon writes the final pages of his book, stating, “I would write a history of human stupidity”, climb to the top of the mountain, lay down to look up, and “make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly” to “thumb my nose at You Know Who” (286). By investing the counter perspective, through the existing structure, Vonnegut emphasizes the point: with human involvement, things are bound to become messed up.
Disclaimer: Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors of all time. This review may be more biased than usual.