Home > Book, Genre, realistic, Review > Book Review: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

Book cover with a large blue V and a pig wearing pearls.Summary:
A satire on free enterprise, money, and capitalism in America told by examining the fictional Rosewaters–an uber-wealthy American family whose ancestor acquired his wealth essentially by profiteering during the Civil War.  The current Rosewater fights in WWII and returns with this crazy idea that everyone deserves to be equally happy and people who inherited wealth did nothing to deserve it.  He responds to this conundrum of conscience by returning to his ancestor’s hometown and using the Rosewater Foundation to help the “useless poor.”  In the meantime, a lawyer by the name of Mushari decides to attempt to prove that Mr. Rosewater is insane, and the foundation money should be handed off to his cousin, currently a suicidal, middle-class insurance man.

Review:
How to review Vonnegut?  Upheld (at my university anyway) as the epitome of great American writing.  He is certainly prolific, and some of his books absolutely deserve the high praise (Slaughterhouse-Five springs to mind).  I don’t feel that this novel lives up to his reputation, however.  I was left feeling that I somehow had missed his point.  That he was attempting to make some high and mighty, heavy-handed vision known to me, and it just didn’t come through.

I think part of the problem stems from the fact that the first third of the book is focused on Eliot Rosewater, the next on his cousin, and the last on Eliot again.  Just as I was getting into Eliot’s story, it switched to his cousin.  Then when I was getting into his cousin’s story, it switched back to Eliot.  To top it all off, the ending left me with little to no resolution on either one.  Maybe Vonnegut’s point is that capitalism either makes you crazy or depressed with no way out?  I’m not sure.

That’s not to say that this wasn’t a fun read, though.  Vonnegut crafts the mid-western town Eliot lives in and the Rhodes Island seacoast town his cousin lives in with delicious detail.  What is interesting about both are of course the people in the towns surrounding the main characters, and not the main characters themselves.  In particular the Rhodes Island town is full of surprisingly well-rounded secondary characters from the cousin’s wife who’s experimenting in a lesbian relationship, to the local fisherman and his sons, to the local restaurant owner who is intensely fabulous (yes, the gay kind of fabulous. There’s quite a bit of GLBT in this book, for those interested in that).  I was so interested in this town.  This was a town that actually demonstrated the problems innate in some people having too much money while others don’t have enough.  This was so much more interesting than Rosewater’s sojourn in Indiana.  But then!  Just when I was really getting into it and thinking this book might approach Slaughterhouse-Five level….bam! Back to Indiana.

Much more interesting than the heavy-handed money message was the much more subtle one on the impact of war.  Mr. Rosewater’s sanity issues go back to WWII.  I won’t tell you what happened, because the reveal is quite powerful.  Suffice to say, Vonnegut clearly understood the impact WWII had on an entire generation and clearly thought about the impact of war on humanity in general.  In this way, this book is quite like Slaughterhouse-Five.  Another interesting way that it’s similar is that Mr. Rosewater listens to a bird tweeting in the same manner (poo-tee-weet!)  I haven’t read enough Vonnegut to know, but I wonder if these two items show up in many of his works?  The birds, especially, are interesting.

Overall, if you’re a Vonnegut enthusiast, enjoy reading for setting and character studies, and don’t mind a message that’s a bit heavy-handed, you will enjoy this book.  Folks just looking for a feel of what makes Vonnegut held in such high esteem should stick to Slaughterhouse-Five though.

3.5 out of 5

Source: PaperBackSwap

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  1. September 6, 2010 at 2:25 am

    Yeah I’ve not read any Vonnegut and was planning to go with Slaughterhouse-Five, so will definitely be sticking with that plan.

    • September 7, 2010 at 2:46 pm

      *Do* read Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s well worth it and gives you the true taste of Vonnegut at his best.

  2. September 6, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I’ve never really been able to get into Vonnegut. I’ve read two of his books, which were fine, but not quite my cup of tea. Then again, maybe if I try them now that I am older I might actually understand them better.

    • September 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      I think that Vonnegut is particularly appealing to the college age bracket. His criticisms of the world, war, and the way things work aren’t anything new for older readers, but for younger ones he’s often the first author they encounter such thoughts through. Plus he couches it with the supernatural and scifi, so that makes it much more accessible. In general, though, I think what he’s best at is setting scenes. He’s definitely a writer to read in order to learn how to do so.

  3. September 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I also loved Slaughterhouse-Five and the Sirens of Titan.

    This is neat:
    In Chapter 18 of his book Palm Sunday, “The Sexual Revolution”, Vonnegut grades his own works. He states that the grades “do not place me in literary history” and that he is comparing “myself with myself.” The grades are as follows:
    Player Piano: B
    The Sirens of Titan: A
    Mother Night: A
    Cat’s Cradle: A-plus
    God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
    Slaughterhouse-Five: A-plus
    Welcome to the Monkey House: B-minus
    Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
    Breakfast of Champions: C
    Slapstick: D
    Jailbird: A
    Palm Sunday: C

    • September 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

      That is so interesting, Michelle! Thanks for taking the time to write that out. It’s interesting that he rates my two favorites as A+, but this one as an A. I wonder why he liked it so much?

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