Thursday, August 12, 2010

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Of the seven novels by Kurt Vonnegut I've read, this was definitely the funniest. I've talked about how the two biggest recurring elements in his work are depressing uses of technology and dark humor, and the scale is pretty much fully tipped towards the latter here. Eliot Rosewater is one of Vonnegut's favorite characters, appearing in multiple books after this one, and I have to say I enjoyed his starring story a whole lot. It struck me at a certain point that it was sort of like one of the less serious Coen brothers movies in novel form, which was sort of an epiphany on my taste. Whether on film or in print, I sure like off beat and occasionally black as night humor.

As far as Vonnegut plots go, Mr. Rosewater's is fairly mundane. He was born into money, and is the president of a foundation that manages his family's fortune. An ambitious lawyer discovers that any president of the foundation that is found insane must relinquish control, and since Eliot has failed to have a child with his European wife, that means the power would transfer to his schlub of a cousin in Rhode Island. The lawyer believes he can get a huge chunk of that inheritance if such a transfer were to occur, and with only a minimum of digging finds that an insanity case might end up being pretty easy.

There's sort of three phases to the book. The first and second explore the lives of Eliot and his cousin respectively, less concerned with hurrying the plot along and just sort of exploring what their lives are like. The funniest bits tend to be whatever comes out of Eliot's mouth, though even when he's not around it's hard to read for any length of time without something humorous coming up. The last act is pretty brief and fairly climactic, a bit confusing on first read but explaining itself fairly well in the last chapter. If there was a Vonnegut book I wouldn't have minded being a bit longer, it was this one, but it was still an excellent, quick read and certainly in the top tier of his work.

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