Hocus pocus

Kurt Vonnegut

Book - 1990

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FICTION/Vonnegut, Kurt
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New York : Putnam c1990.
Main Author
Kurt Vonnegut (-)
Physical Description
302 p.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Among the most original stylists in America today, Vonnegut vents his disgust and moral outrage with government and humanity and the entire universe in yet another scathing social/political/philosophical satire. Set in the year 2001, but jumping over the last half of the 20th century, Hocus Pocus takes on an absurdist's perspective of human history. Protagonist Eugene Debs Hartke, West Point graduate, Vietnam vet, college professor, educator of the disabled and the illiterate, is awaiting trial for a crime initially unspecified. Until this time, Hartke has diligently and good-naturedly participated in whatever was expected of him, including involvement in the evacuation of American personnel from Saigon. At one point, however, he calculates the remarkable fact that he has killed exactly as many people as he has had sex with, a coincidence that causes him to doubt his atheism. The narrative is composed of short takes in which Hartke's thoughts skip between the inconsequential and the profound, giving Vonnegut occasion to interject interesting tidbits of information, scientific and historical and otherwise. The cumulative power of the novel is considerable, revealing Vonnegut at his fanciful and playful best. First serial to Penthouse; BOMC selection; QPB featured alternate. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Vonnegut's latest is his most insistently antiwar novel since Slaughterhouse-Five, and is haunted by Vietnam; the title refers to Uncle Sam's Vietnam propaganda outfit. The format is standard Vonnegut: homilies, refrains, and fragments of a life on planet Earth (with just a nod to Tralfamadore). The life belongs to Eugene Debs Hartke, soldier-turned-teacher; it's 2001, and the 61-year-old Eugene is getting his life down on scraps of paper while awaiting trial for allegedly masterminding a mass prison break (actually the work of a Jamaican drug kingpin). Though the setting is Tarkington College, Scipio, in Upstate New York, and the narrative is cluttered with campus trivia, Vietnam is invoked at every turn. The new wrinkle here is that Eugene, far from being a hapless Billy Pilgrim, was an accomplished professional soldier, a West Point graduate who rose to lieutenant colonel, a ""puritanical angel of death"" whose ""100-percent-legal military kills"" in Vietnam equal the grand total of his sexual conquests after 40 years of tomcatting. But Eugene, for all his medals, still has ""ugly, personal knowledge"" of Vietnam, which leads to his being fired from Tarkington and moving across the lake to teach at the all-black, Japanese-run prison (the Japanese now run most US prisons and hospitals) until the Jamaican-led exodus and its bloody aftermath. Eugene also has a wretched domestic life (wife and live-in mother-in-law who go mad, estranged kids), but this gets only perfunctory attention. Eugene is an unlikely and never fully convincing filter for Vonnegut's world-view; the snapshots of Vietnam horror (""I saw the severed head of a bearded old man resting on the guts of an eviscerated water buffalo"") remain just that; and the Japanese prison warden's childhood memory of the Hiroshima atomic blast reads like a tired replay of Billy in Dresden. Yes, there are occasional flashes of the old Vonnegut magic (a lovely encounter between Eugene and an illegitimate son named after a cocktail, for example), but mostly he is working well below his top form here. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.