More like “God bless you, Kurt Vonnegut,” am I right?
Second only to Slaughterhouse-Five of Vonnegut’s canon in its prominence and influence, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) presents Eliot Rosewater, an itinerant, semi-crazed millionaire wandering the country in search of heritage and philanthropic outcome, introducing the science fiction writer Kilgore Trout to the world and Vonnegut to the collegiate audience which would soon make him a cult writer. Rosewater, seeking to put his inheritance to some meaningful use (his father was an entrepreneur), tries to do good within the context of almost illimitable cynicism and corruption. The novel is told mostly thru a collection of short stories dealing with Eliot’s interactions with the citizens of Rosewater County, usually with the last sentence serving as a punch line. The antagonist’s tale, Mushari’s, is told in a similar short essay fashion. The stories reveal different hypocrisies of humankind in a darkly humorous fashion.
I am the ultimate sucker for Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve been collecting and devouring his books since introduced to Slaughterhouse-Five in my AP Language and Composition class when I was 16 years old.
I like Vonnegut because his writing is snarky, sardonic, and hilarious. Seriously, I found myself chuckling through the majority of the 275-page book. His humor is biting; he satires and attacks the most attackable offenses of humanity: greed, war, selfishness, ignorance. This book takes aim at the ruling, wealthy elite and their treatment of the working class, a topic that is no less resolved today than it was in 1965.
In lieu of a whole, sprawling review, let me just highlight a few lines that hit especially near to home for me in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
I love you sons of bitches [referring to science fiction writers]. You’re all I read any more. You’re the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.
Samuel thundered that no American factory hand was worth more than eighty cents a day. And yet he could be thankful for the opportunity to pay a hundred thousand dollars or more for a painting by an Italian three centuries dead. And he capped this insult by giving paintings to museums for the spiritual elevation of the poor. The museums were closed on Sundays.
In time, almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering, and probably medicine, too. So—if we can’t find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, rub them out.
E pluribus unum is surely an ironic motto to inscribe on the currency of this Utopia gone bust, for every grotesquely rich American represents property, privileges, and pleasures that have been denied the many.
Americans have long been taught to hate all people who will not or cannot work, to hate even themselves for that. We can thank the vanished frontier for that piece of common-sense cruelty. The time is coming, if it isn’t here now, when it will no longer be common sense. It will simply be cruel.
Samaritrophia is only a disease, and a violent one, too, when it attacks those exceedingly rare individuals who reach biological maturity still loving and wanting to help their fellow men.