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Thursday, October 2, 2008

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

By Kurt Vonnegut

(3/5 stars)

This is the fifth Vonnegut novel I've read in about as many months. I enjoyed "Timequake" and loved "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Bluebeard." But the last two I've read just weren't as good. I read "Cat's Cradle" and thought overall it was weird, not in the wacky fun-loving way of a Willy Wonka, more like the creepy way of that guy who sits in a van outside playgrounds. But then I had a head cold so maybe I wasn't prepared to appreciate the subtleties. As for "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" I just found it to be completely unpleasant and perhaps in this case it was because the novel was telling me things I knew but didn't really want to hear about. The truth hurts.

The book deals with the Rosewater family, in particular two branches of the family. One group is based out of Indiana, but they don't really live there. The father is a senator who visits the county named for his ancestors a couple times a year, which is not unlike most politicians, some of whom (a certain senator representing New York) have even less connection with the territories they represent. Thanks to shrewd dealings in the Civil War by his ancestors, the senator has plenty of money. To keep the government he ostensibly works for from touching the fortune, the senator's lawyers drew up a foundation. The senator's son Eliot comes to be the head of this foundation and he (gasp!) actually tries to use the money to help people! He moves to Rosewater County, where he dedicates himself to helping people by giving them money, medicine, and an ear to talk to while also fighting fires as a lieutenant of the Volunteer Fire Department. In the process of all this good, Eliot drives himself and his wife crazy.

Meanwhile, a greedy young lawyer locates the other branch of the Rosewater family in Rhode Island. In particular, he finds Fred Rosewater, a miserable life insurance salesman with a wife who hangs out with a rich lesbian to lap up some of the golden crumbs. The lawyer concocts a grand scheme to declare Eliot insane so he can get the foundation's money and snap up a few golden crumbs of his own.

What makes this book so depressing is that the only admirable human in the book is also the one accused of being insane. And while he is performing a lot of charitable deeds for the people of Rosewater County, he does it more out of guilt than anything and sees most of the people he helps as a nuisance. The poor people of Rosewater County and Rhode Island are all described as lazy, stupid, and useless. The rich people are also lazy, stupid, and useless, but at least they have the money to dress and smell nice.

So I think you can see what I mean about this being a real downer to read. While I understand much of what the author is saying is true--a lot of people are lazy, stupid, and useless, including Yours Truly--it's not exactly the kind of message I want to hear. As I said, the truth hurts. Maybe if you're secure enough to think you aren't lazy, stupid, and useless then you'll enjoy the book far more than I did.

That is all.

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