I’m adding a new category to books called “Authors I Love,” and there is no better inaugural author than the late, phenomenal Kurt Vonnegut. No one can distill the complexities of the human condition the way he did, and yet still make you laugh while slicing you clean with his words.
I met him once, and as you’ll find is a common theme for me when meeting my favorite authors, became a babbling idiot. I managed to ask him, when I became somewhat coherent, how he felt about being labeled a science fiction writer back when that kind of a label was meant to sting.
In a perfect display of Vonnegutesque on the fly, he told me he wrote about science because he was a chemist and that’s what he knew.
So it goes.
Here is one of my favorites, which is little off the beaten path of his body of work.
Hocus Pocus (Kurt Vonnegut Series) by Kurt Vonnegut. Amazon for $5.99. Eugene Debs Hartke (named after the famous early 20th century Socialist working class leader) describes an odyssey from college professor to prison inmate to prison warden back again to prisoner in another of Vonnegut’s bitter satirical explorations of how and where (and why) the American dream begins to die. Employing his characteristic narrative device–a retrospective diary in which the protagonist retraces his life at its end, a desperate and disconnected series of events here in Hocus Pocus show Vonnegut with his mask off and his rhetorical devices unshielded.
Debs (and Vonnegut) see academia just as imprisoning as the corrupt penal system and they regard politics as the furnishing and marketing of lies. Debs, already disillusioned by circumstance, quickly tracks his way toward resignation and then fury. As warden and prisoner, Debs (and the reader) come to understand that the roles are interchangeable; as a professor jailed for “”radical”” statements in the classroom reported by a reactionary student, he comes to see the folly of all regulation. The “”hocus pocus”” of the novel’s title does not describe only the jolting reversals and seemingly motiveless circumstance which attend Debs’ disillusion and suffering, but also describe the political, social, and economic system of a country built upon can’t, and upon the franchising of lies.