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Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

By Jen K. | Books | September 17, 2010 |

By Jen K. | Books | September 17, 2010 |

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors I’ve always thought I should like but I’ve never really been able to get into. I didn’t like Slaughterhouse-Five when I read it in high school, even though I haven’t forgotten the “so it goes” quote, and Breakfast of Champions just didn’t quite pull me in, either (oddly enough, I didn’t really like The Lord of the Flies in high school either but I fondly remember the message, and actually think I would enjoy it quite a lot if I reread it … that’s another one with a quote I still remember, “kill the beastie”). I’ve always assumed that maybe high school wasn’t the proper time to read Slaughterhouse-Five, and if I just got the right book, I’d finally get it. After reading a fellow CBR participant’s review of this novel, I thought maybe this would be the one.

Sadly, no. There are certain things I like about Vonnegut but he just gets too absurd for me at points. The narrator of this novel is Howard Campbell Jr. who is writing this memoir while waiting on his trial for war crimes. During the war, he was a Nazi propagandist, though he used his position to spy/work for the American government. There are no records of this, so instead he is reviled for his racist, anti-Semitic work. Vonnegut states in the preface that the moral of this novel is “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” I was drawn to the idea of looking at the public man vs. the private … the way society perceives him vs. the way he perceives himself and his actions.

There was some of that, but there was also a lot of random stuff … I mean it made sense in the story eventually, but for the most part Campbell just seemed like a man that let himself go along with whatever tides were pulling at him. He ends up discovered fairly early in the novel by some white supremacists and though he doesn’t agree with them, he somehow ends up with them. Maybe this is why I can’t get into Vonnegut — his characters often don’t seem to make that many decisions. Billy of Slaughterhouse-Five certainly just seemed to go through the motions (it’s been eight years, I could be wrong). I don’t know why I would find this off-putting, though, because I’ve read other novels with characters like that, and I still enjoy them.

I think if it had just focused on the wartime parts and the way Campbell sees himself I would have enjoyed it more but it was the addition of the crazy white supremacists among others that made it too over the top for me. At least Vonnegut’s novels are quick, short and easy to read, so even when I end up wondering what the big deal is about the man, I don’t really feel like I’ve wasted time.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Jen K.’s reviews, check out her blog, Notes from the Officer’s Club.

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