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Eugene Debs Hartke (named after the famous early 20th century Socialist working class leader) describes an odyssey from college professor to prison inmate to prison warden back again to prisoner in another of Vonnegut's bitter satirical explorations of how and where (and why) the American dream begins to die. Employing his characteristic narrative device—a retrospective diary in which the protagonist retraces his life at its end, a desperate and disconnected series of events here in Hocus Pocus show Vonnegut with his mask off and his rhetorical devices unshielded.
Debs (and Vonnegut) see academia just as imprisoning as the corrupt penal system and they regard politics as the furnishing and marketing of lies. Debs, already disillusioned by circumstance, quickly tracks his way toward resignation and then fury. As warden and prisoner, Debs (and the listener) come to understand that the roles are interchangeable; as a professor jailed for "radical" statements in the classroom reported by a reactionary student, he comes to see the folly of all regulation.
The "hocus pocus" of the novel's title does not describe only the jolting reversals and seemingly motiveless circumstance which attend Debs' disillusion and suffering, but also describe the political, social, and economic system of a country built upon can't, and upon the franchising of lies. At 68, Vonnegut had not only abandoned the sentiment and cracked optimism manifest in Slaughterhouse-Five, he had abandoned any belief in the system or faith for its recovery. This novel is another in a long series of farewells to the farmland funeral rites of childhood.
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Kurt Vonnegut is a unique voice in the American canon — a writer whose works are hard to categorize, often straddling the space between literature and science fiction, and filled with cutting satire and dark humor. Like Mark Twain before him, Vonnegut's reputation and impact on American writing and reading will continue to grow steadily and increase in relevance as new insights are made. Vonnegut was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, and studied at the University of Chicago and the University of Tennessee. In the Second World War, he became a German prisoner of war and was present during the bombing of Dresden. This experience provided inspiration for his most successful and influential novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut — admired as much for his views and his “Vonnegutisms” as for his publications — wrote extensively in many forms, including novels, short stories, essays, plays, articles, speeches, and correspondence, some of which was published posthumously.From Publishers Weekly:
While awaiting trial for an initially unspecified crime, Vietnam vet and college professor Eugene Debs Hartke realizes that he has killed exactly as many people as he has had sex with, a coincidence that causes him to doubt his atheism. According to PW , "The cumulative power of the novel is considerable, revealing Vonnegut at his fanciful and playful best."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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