The early 1960s were strange times. In the midst of the Cold War, the generation after World War II was feeling the former’s effects. Published in a time of social unrest and civic justice, Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle comments on the consequences of technology, religion, and weapons of mass destruction.
Our story begins with the main character, John (or as he prefers, Jonah), speaking about his life as an author and writing a book about the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through his corresponding investigations, he contacted the late Dr. Felix Hoenikker’s children, as Dr. Hoenikker was a co-creator of the atomic bomb. Events begin to unfold as John finds out about one of Dr. Hoenikker’s last inventions: ice-nine, a crystalline substance that, when it comes in contact with a water molecule, turns it and all other water molecules touching it to ice. The sample of this powerful, secret substance was divided among the Hoenikker children upon their father’s death. However, Frank Hoenikker, the middle and oddball child, is missing; his sample of ice-nine is missing, too. The adventure in San Lorenzo, an island dictatorship in which Frank is revealed to be residing, and how the characters keep ice-nine from both an abused population and an insane dictator, proves to be a fast-paced, enthralling story.
Kurt Vonnegut, who authored other notable works such as Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five, was known as a humanist and a lifetime supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Famous for his satire, gallows humor, and science fiction tendencies, Vonnegut also taught English at Harvard and was a graphic artist.
Cat’s Cradle is the ultimate analysis of a society gone awry. The obvious political commentary posed by setting most of the story on an island of savages worshipping a dictator and practicing a religion based on the concept of sophistry asks many of the same questions that have to be answered on a personal basis: How much power does the government have over us? To what extent with individuals go for their faith? And how closely tied should government and faith be?
The Way Through Doors
There is simply no other way to put it: The Way Through Doors will blow your mind. American poet and novelist Jesse Ball published this novel in 2009, (his debut novel, Samedi the Deafness, first appeared in 2007) and it was met with overall positive reviews. It is labeled under the genre of “experimental fiction,” a style of writing that can occasionally alienate readers, as novels christened with this literary classification seek to break conventional standards and notions of traditional fiction writing. However, all labels aside, Ball certainly does not alienate his readers. Instead, he uses his mastery of prose and artful storytelling to create a surreal, extremely imaginative, very original plot that is almost not like a plot at all. The storyline, which can be a little confusing at times due to its stream-of-conscious-like nature, basically goes as follows:
Protagonist, Manhattan resident, city inspector and professional pamphleteer Selah Morse is walking in the city streets, an everyday activity in his lonely and strange yet soporific life, when he witnesses a young lady get hit by a taxi cab. Though the woman is a stranger to him, Morse ensures that she makes it to the hospital, where he poses as her boyfriend because she has no other apparent relatives. The woman is released into Morse’s care with no injuries, save a concussion that has caused temporary amnesia. The doctors instruct Morse to keep her awake for the rest of the night, so that she does not suffer any sleep-induced consequences of the trauma to her head. Because the woman does not even recall her own name, Morse begins telling her a sequence of outlandish tales, hoping that anything in his stories might spark her memory and bring her out of her confused state.
Critics hold that the story’s themes include love, hope, and identity; with this novel, though, I personally think it is best to leave it as it is and to save your endless pondering for another book. The novel is a display of Jesse Ball’s skillful blend of poetic language and narration, and it is much more enjoyable to abandon all attempts at deeper interpretation.
So if ever you are stuck with a rainy day, or you are struck with a sudden desire to read, pick up a copy of The Way Through Doors and let Jesse Ball work his magic on your mind. You will not be disappointed.