Just finished reading Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. For preaching how much I love the guy, I’ve never actually read one of his books. Let alone read Slaughterhouse 5, which is a title several readerly friends have dropped in my lap.
God Bless You is about the Rosewater Fortune, and one enterprising lawyer’s interest in swindling it.
That’s the story in a nutshell. In truth, it’s about class warfare. It’s about money. It’s about the definition of insanity. It’s about socialism vs. free-market capitalism. It’s about everyone from war heroes to lawyers being misunderstood and boxed in. It’s about Eliot Rosewater, owner of the Rosewater Fortune, a man who lived his entire life in the lap of luxury, who “falls off the deep end” and prefers instead to live his life as an average joe in the slums, helping the unfortunate. As with every character in this book, he’s littered with flaws. Mostly, his ignorance toward society.
The story rolls around many of the well-off and ignorant and many of the poor and ignorant. And many of the greedy and self-serving. The lawyer, Mushari, tries to prove that Eliot is truly insane and unfit to control the Rosewater fortune while simultaneously trying to transfer the fortune over to the next heir: a poor, incredibly depressed insurance salesman on the coast. Collateral to Eliot’s apparent psychotic break (you know, the need to help people and separate himself from wealth) is his passively loving wife’s mental state, his father’s, an evangelistic senator, credibility and “legacy,” and the fate of a slumtown that had initially been built a hundred years previous as a monument to the Rosewater “royalty.”
Complicated, yes. This is a novel I found incredibly poignant to the events of today, with America and all of Europe slowly collapsing in a pool of ignorant rulers and an increasingly oppressed lower class.
If I were to use one sentence to explain this satirical novel, it’s “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There are no good and no bad people in this book: they are all regular, somewhat eccentric, somewhat dynamic characters dedicated to one cause or another. They are every one of them believable, all the way down to the homeless Nazi collaborator who had transmitted paratrooping knife production numbers over a walkie-talkie during the war.
Nearly everyone is misguided–except for the seemingly unnatural brilliance of a science fiction writer who seems to easily grasp what everyone is doing as some sort of a great cosmic play.
Vonnegut doesn’t preach. He presents both sides of a thematic element in equally satirical clarity: rich and selfish or poor and selfless, Vonnegut shows the flaws throughout. (Or rich and selfless. Or poor and selfish. Or ambivalent and playing the system.)
If you want a complex social play on money, power, and what it takes to be an American, please read this. Even though I was a fan of his previous (after reading an essay of his), I am now a strong supporter of Vonnegut. His intricate, dry style of writing put me at ease. He does not waste a single word. He is a far greater writer than most I’ve read.
I’ll have to read more.
Edit: I’ve never done this before, but I went to Goodreads and read some of the reviews left by other readers on the book. I was overjoyed to read so many angry reactions. Some were “This kind of book is for those so-called educated folks who like to sip their brandy and discourse on the fate of the world,” while others showed remarkable understanding and simultaneous confirmation bias that his “major flaw” is toward the female characters of the novel, or that his “redistribution of wealth” message was too preachy.
I don’t buy it. What all these reviews have in common is that Vonnegut wrote about what they stand for “with a sneer.” Every character in this book was tragically flawed and wanting something.
I stand behind my review that he presented both sides strategically and with a masterful sense of style. Even the female characters were elegant and strong in their own flawed, socially-required ways.