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Monday, August 31, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut: Mother Night

Mother NightMother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an altogether different beast than most other works in the Vonnegut cannon. That is not to say that it does not possess that same black humor, the same zany morals, and the same humanist views. That being said, it is distinctly lacking in some of the surreal, post-modern, narrative breakdowns that can be found in Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five. Nor does it possess any uniquely science fiction elements as are seen in The Sirens of Titan.

This novel, despite its minimalism, is altogether literary.

This is interesting because it shows something about both Vonnegut and genre writing as a whole. Yes, there are pieces as written by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, those of the "hard sci-fi" standard. Technical novels that, though good, lack a distinct philosophy. Yet, we also have the likes of Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick and, to a lesser extent, Asimov. Writers who fused the pulp with the literary.

This novel proves that Vonnegut is a force in the same way that Nirvana's Unplugged performance solidified Cobain as a songwriter.

Now, onto the book itself, yes?

This book is the story of World War Two and the horrible atrocities that were wrought in the name of hate in conformity. In his seminal work, Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut already told us there is no intelligent thing that can be said of war. Therefore, we must assume that the same can be said of hate.

This leaves us with the latter. Conformity is a big role in this novel. All the while the character of Howard Campbell is conforming to the roles that are placed on him. First is his an artist and a lover. He conforms to these roles with joy and with passion. However, due to the outbreak of World War Two, he finds himself conforming to the role of Nazi, propaganda agent.

This is done in direct response to another role he conforms to as American Spy. Secret one at that.

What does this all mean then, this conformity and exploration thereof?

Well, Vonnegut nails his own moral on the head. We are what we pretend to be. Howard Campbell pretends to be all these things, conforming to the roles with which he is given, and so he becomes this character. When at first he was a writer and a lover he was that fully and truly. However, when he spends his time writing slander against the Jews and working for the Nazi's. This is, ultimately, what he is remembered for.

This brings us to another point Vonnegut makes. We are remembered only for what art we produce. Indeed, this does seem true. Those that are most easily remembered are often the artists of generations past.

So then, when we are given these two points, what must we take away?

Perhaps we must take away that we should not pretend to be what we are not? Or, more cynically, if we must pretend to be anything, we must be sure that it is something history will look favorably on? That is, perhaps, the harder question.

Buy the Book Here: Mother Night: A Novel
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