on April 11, 2003
Okay, so God Bless You... may not be the the best thing Vonnegut's ever written, but Vonnegut on an off day is still well worth reading. This book has all his trademarks, from biting social commentary and blazing satire to dark humor and quirky characters. It's a speedy read that will make you both laugh and wince by turns. Don't make it the first Vonnegut book you read -- for that, I'd suggest Slaughterhouse 5 -- but if you're a fan give it a whirl.
I’d been reading rather serious books and needed something humorous, so I got the Kindle edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It’d been a while since I’d read Vonnegut. Years ago, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, and Hocus Pocus. I also read Cat’s Cradle, but didn’t really go in for it. It was a little too sci-fi for me. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is good, but pretty out there. The beginning is highly structured and organized, but the narrative soon spins off into myriad tangents. At times the writing is practically psychedelic. Imagine if the album The Worst of Jefferson Airplane were a book. The story is a bit of a magic carpet ride. Consequently, it’s hard to say what Rosewater means: commentary on the oddball nature of capitalistic society? The apparent randomness and unfairness of the universe? Everyone will take away something different. It’s not as funny as Breakfast and, for me, not as deep as Hocus Pocus, but it’s still good – funny in places, nicely written, and – best of all – highly imaginative. And it was nice to read something quirky and relatively light. I hope to read more of Vonnegut in the future.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World, and War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada.
on January 30, 2007
This book is a pearl. Those who did not give it a positive review called it "slow" or "underdeveloped." These are valid opinions, and you might be right in describing it as such. It is not a thrill-ride or a comic book, and was not intended to be. I did not read it in one sitting, but I have read it 3 times now.
This book is not for the novice Vonnegut reader. I found its themes to be somewhat similar to Vonnegut's first book, "Player Piano." IF YOU SAY THIS BOOK IS ABOUT ECONOMICS AND CAPITALISM VS. SOCIALISM, YOU MISSED THE POINT! Vonnegut makes an effort to show that money can be removed from the lesson this book teaches. Like "Player Piano," it comments on a myriad of subjects, but is ultimately aimed at mourning the purposeless life many Americans now find themselves in. - Rich or poor, to live without purpose and meaning is death.-
Eliot Rosewater is the hero, almost a Christ-figure, because he loves the people of Rosewater - most of whom live without purpose - UNCONDITIONALLY. Even though it may not solve the problem, Eliot gives them all he has and blesses them, because a fortune given away might not do any good, but a fortune saved is even more meaningless and empty. Yes - it is harsh on capitalism, classism, and conservativism, but that's Vonnegut. A TRIUMPH FOR HUMANISM.
Might be too idealistic for some, but definitely worth a read. And of course, it has its hilarious moments.
addicted to Vonnegut
on November 12, 2002
Eliot Rosewater is a fat and mediocre minded do-gooder. What makes him extraordinary is that he has the means, through the Rosewater foundation, to dole out money to anyone who requests a bit. In his home town of Rosewater, Indiana, where he has returned like the prodigal mad citizen, he ignores society, purchases an enormous fire alarm, bankrolls the fire company and personally answers 24 hour calls over two telephones- one for assistance and the other for fire emergencies. He has different composures, voices and rules for each. The cranks who phone him for money are old drunken, ugly spinsters, none too clean or honorable town 'handymen,' and his father, the famous Senator Rosewater; whom seeing his son, shrieks at God, for having handed him this vale of tears. Elliott drinks too much, cannot father an heir and has driven his otherwise loving wife to a arsonist's breakdown. She torched the Fire Company.
Eliott has no grand plan of philanthropy, not even a cause, unless the volunteer firemen and their work count. He has a quasi Buddhist detachment from hatred as well as wealth and status. Plenty of people, especially the evil Norman Mushari, are out to filch his millions and crucify his reputation in the meantime.
The book examines the Rosewater mutation whereby every couple of generations, a male is born with no aspiration. No desire to scratch and claw or otherwise greedily grasp power from others.
Vonnegut's thematic puncturing of capitalism, European fatuousness and the nature of success and failure is showcased with the also unseemly nature of the non-wealthy and unsuccessful. Mushari goes face to face with the God of most of Vonnegut's cosmology- Kilgore Trout, science fiction writer. The book is part of the canon of this icon of an author and as such, I recommend it highly to one and all. The time when I first read it, was a time when I still found drunks a riot and even the smallest attack upon the status quo enormously satisfying. We are no longer that naive and yet the lessons and the funniness of just about everything can never be dated.
on September 12, 2002
There was something in Vonnegut's first rush of books that is lacking in his later novels. Although I enjoy his later books and for the life of me I can't say what this mystery quality is, whatever it is it tends to elevate even his minor books into affairs that are far more memorable than they tend to be. Maybe because the themes and images he's using here were new to him and he was still comparitively young . . . I don't know. It's not for me to say. This novel has a simple premise and a simple plot and moves unsurprisingly from point A to point B and yet I still have an incredibly enjoyable experience reading it, even though I finished it basically on my lunch break over the course of maybe an hour and a half. The premise then is that Eliot Rosewater has a lot of love to give to the world and spends most of his time doing very nice things for people who are almost pathetic enough to not deserve it, simply because he was born rich and feels he has a lot to give to the world. A lawyer, meanwhile wishes to prove that he is insane and has it in him to make quite the case. The book basically waffles back and forth between the lives of the various people Eliot helps, the comically depressing lives of some of these people, a little Rosewater family history and the lawyer's attempt to gather information on Eliot's apparent insanity. All of these pieces don't cohere into the great whole that his absolute best books (like Slaughterhouse-Five) do, but the pieces themselves are great fun and Vonnegut's humanity has never been as apparent here. It doesn't have the grim central event like the bombing of Dresden to put everything in context but somehow he manages to make the book moving and hilarious at the same time. The plot of course is slight and it's a fairly direct book, though the ending is about as abrupt as can be (and is mentioned in a later Vonnegut book I think, fortunately I forgot about it). This won't ever be regarded as one of his classics but even a minor work by an author working at his peak is worth another look and while the rewards here may not be as grand, they're simple and pleasant in their own small way.
on January 5, 2002
This book, which has been touted as a "brilliant satire on almost everything", is, in fact, one of Vonnegut's second-rate novels. It is perhaps his most pessimistic, cynical, darkest book of them all. It's also different from the majority of his work in that it is fairly straight-forwardly written; it doesn't jump around on narrative detours like most of his books do. The story is told in fairly linear fashion. It is certainly a good book, and a nice, quick read (like all Vonnegut, it has that indescrible weird factor - not suspense, in the typical fashion - that keeps you reading it); it's just that it doesn't have that Great Underlying Moral like his best books do. The book's main character is Eliot Rosewater (undoubtedly a familar persona to Vonnegut fans), and he gives in this book - to everybody - what seemingly no one is willing to give these days: unconditional love. In turn for this, he is spit on by the world. This book says, in typical Vonnegut candor, Help people; you won't be appreciated for it, and you will probably even be ridiclued, but do it, anyway. It also says, Most people don't deserve help - they are worthless, useless, and stupid - but do it, anyway. Also, this book is a sharp-toothed satire of the American welfare system. Vonnegut's view of welfare echoes mine: it was a good idea to start out with, but its usefulness has passed. People who don't need it are milking it shamelessly, and the time has come to drastically re-organize it, or dispense with it alltogether. Vonnegut also tackles the issue of inherited wealth, and all forms of riches you earn by birthright, or other similar cirumstances, without actually earning yourself. Of course, this inevitably raises the subject of Communism. This book has a lot of interesting ideas, and points, but they are never brought together into that single, incredible cohesive whole, like they are in his best books. Certainly, it is a worthy read for fans; others, however, would be wise to start elsewhere.
on August 4, 2001
Reading "God bless you, Mr. Rosewater" is like competing in a mental exercise with Kurt Vonnegut, but he's cheating, because all the controls are on his side of the table. There is a plot to Rosewater, though not one of much substance. But the characters, so many and of such wide scope. And Vonnegut keeps adding more and laying on bits and pieces of story asides. You keep thinking you know where the author is taking you, only to find out you are totally wrong. The narrator of this entire tale is introdced in the second half. It's not the author, it's...well...read it and ponder. And then when you think you have the story line figured out and where the character of the narrator fits in, the book does a 180 and you're wrong again.Â It's a triste on greed, the haves and the have not, and the saintliness of firefighters. There are U.S. Senators, lesbians, teenage smut peddlars, murderers, life insurance salesmen, and Kilgore Trout. None of it makes sense, and all of it makes sense. Oh, the way I heard the saying was, "It's no disgrace to be poor, just damn unhandy."
on October 9, 2000
I just finished reading this book for the first time since I was in college - and I am 43 now. It is much different than I remember it. Being a book about money and distribution of same, it is natural and right that I would see it much differently now, after being emeshed for years in the workaday capitalistic world, than when I was an idealistic college student. However, having said that, I wonder how much of the book REALLY is about money, and how much of it is really about pride, humanitarianism, and being a friend. Elliot Rosewater simply wants the world to be a better place. He does not really deceive himself into thinking that money itself is a cureall - he seems to understand that charity, in and of itself, is not the answer. Self respect and holding one's head up is. Is Elliot really crazy? Heck, yes! But just because he's crazy does not mean that all of his ideas and thoughts are insane. Like most of Vonnegut's books, this is a fable - you could pick it apart all day if you like on the facts and the contradictions - but that would not diminish it. It is a fine fable, and contains many truths. It's a good book.
on August 4, 2001
Reading "God bless you, Mr. Rosewater" is like competing in a mental exercise with Kurt Vonnegut, but he's cheating, because all the controls are on his side of the table. There is a plot to Rosewater, though not one of much substance. But the characters, so many and of such wide scope. And Vonnegut keeps adding more and laying on bits and pieces of story asides. You keep thinking you know where the author is taking you, only to find out you are totally wrong. The narrator of this entire tale is introdced in the second half. It's not the author, it's...well...read it and ponder. And then when you think you have the story line figured out and where the character of the narrator fits in, the book does a 180 and you're wrong again. It's a triste on greed, the haves and the have not, and the saintliness of firefighters. There are U.S. Senators, lesbians, ..., murderers, life insurance salesmen, and Kilgore Trout. None of it makes sense, and all of it makes sense...
on December 26, 2002
Eliot Rosewater is giving away his money (and love and attention) to deserving people... and some maybe not so deserving. This proves he is crazy. Hence the subtitle "Pearls Before Swine."
That's the setup in this minor Vonnegut novel. Eliot has no illusions about the quality of the people he sometimes helps or how far his help will go. But he insists that the world would be a better place if everyone gave a little something to each other. This in turn sets Eliot up for a confrontation with a lawyer and his Senator father as the family fortune is threatened because Eliot can be proven insane. After all, he's giving it away. He must be crazy. Kilgore Trout comes to the rescue with his usual comically inverted (and yet somehow truer) morals.
This isn't Vonnegut's best but it is a pleasant and gentle novel with a bit of a moral and some good comic moments. A nice read.