Of course, I could have also went with biting, dark, witty, ironic, or any other number of adjectives to describe Vonnegut’s fourth novel. All considered, however, bizarre works best.
In Cat’s Cradle, the lead character Jonah set out to write a book about what important Americans were doing on the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. In researching his book, he converts from Christianity to a newly minted religion, Bokonism. He discovers that one of the bomb’s Fathers, Dr. Hoenikker, also created a far more potent weapon that is now in the hands of his eccentric children. He lands on a privately owned island/Country where Bokonism was founded and, although every person on the Island is a Bokonist, the religion is outlawed. Cat’s Cradle builds to an apocalyptic finale complete with … well, read and find out.
The best part of reading Vonnegut is his trademark ironic edge. Take this exchange between Jonah and Marvin Breed, monument seller (51):
“You can laugh at that stone, if you want to,” said Marvin Breed, “but those kids got more consolation out of that than anything else money could have bought. …
“It must have cost a lot.”
“Nobel Prize money bought it. …”
“Dynamite money,” I marveled, thinking of the violence of dynamite and the absolute repose of a tombstone. …
“Nobel invented dynamite.”
“Well, I guess it takes all kids …”
Had I been a Bokonist then, pondering the miraculously intricate chain of events that had brought dynamite money to that particular tombstone company, I might have whispered, “Busy, busy, busy.”
Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokonists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.
But all I could say as a Christian then was, “Life is sure funny sometimes.”
Like all of Vonnegut’s books, if you speed through them to enjoy a plot you’ll likely be disappointed. If you take the time to think through the layers of sarcasm and irony, his works have serious depth.
—Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (New York: Dell, 1963).