Posted by: Sally Ingraham | December 10, 2009

Cat’s Cradle and Nobody Move: Part 2 of read-a-thon reviews

DSC00278All righty, let’s finish this up. 🙂

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was the third book that I read during those 22 epic hours devoted to the written word, and I almost set it aside after the first few pages. I thought that perhaps the wild imaginings of Vonnegut were going to be a bit much for my tired mind. I was loath to not finish something I’d started though, so I forged on and was quite suddenly about halfway through, and completely enthralled.

At it’s most basic this book is about a writer named Jonah who is researching the lives of the Hoenikker family for a book called “The Day the World Ended”. It is a collection of memories about the day the first atomic bomb was detonated. Father Hoenikker was one of the main designers of the bomb. In his efforts to track down the three Hoenikker children, Jonah ends up in the tiny island country of San Lorenzo, where he discovers the religion Bokonon and has an encounter with Hoenikker’s final invention, Ice-9, that is somewhat too close for comfort.

Vonnegut is a wonderful writer. He is funny and inventive, and while sometimes he seems too clever for his own good, for me he never crosses the line into arrogant outrageousness. (The same can not be said for Tom Robbins, but we won’t go into that, ahem.) I feel like I only got the surface level of this book, since after all I was reading at blazing speed, and I would definitely like to read it again.

Even just flipping the book open to the first page and reading Jonah’s introduction of himself – ‘Jonah – John – if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still…‘ gives me one of those, “Whoa. Oh YEAH! That makes so much sense!” moments, and I want to tear through the book and make a few more puzzle pieces fall into place.

The book talks a lot about religion, as it charts Jonah’s conversion to Bukonon, and his experience with his own inability to avoid the path that has been mysteriously laid out before him. Vonnegut balances poking a little fun at the ideas behind organized religion, with the proof that it is one of the essential things that can build and hold together a society. He asks questions about the meaning of it all – the game of cat’s cradle is a pivotal plot point, and this little scene made me wag my head in mystified revelation (back-story – the character of Newt had a particularly traumatic encounter with a cat’s cradle as a 6 year old):

“One of the oldest games there is, cat’s cradle. Even the Eskimos know it.”
“You don’t say.”
“For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of sting in their children’s faces.”
Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his painty hands as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…”
No damn cat, and no damn cradle.

I mean, whoa, right? This is easily my favorite of the books by Vonnegut that I have read. I like that it can be whatever you make of it – either a fun fast read, or something deeper. How deep? That’s really a matter of how well you can play cat’s cradle!

I was disappointed by Nobody Move. My first encounter with the author, Denis Johnson, was through the bizarre and amazing Fiskadoro, which I read in September. It had depth and breadth and strange landscapes and beautiful writing. Even though I knew Nobody Move was a goofy crime novel, I expected something more from Johnson. What he delivered is a slick, fast paced piece of work with plenty of sex and violence, and some decent moments of dark comedy. It didn’t feel fresh or different to me though, which I would have expected from Johnson. There’s no need to prove your versatility if you don’t have anything new to add to a genre like the American Crime Novel.

Granted, I was mentally exhausted at the point of the night that I tore through the novel, and my inattentive reading of it probably had more to do with my struggle against sleep than with what the book actually had to offer. I’m certainly not giving up on Johnson! I’m eager to read the novel he recently won the National Book Award for – Tree of Smoke – and can only assume that it far surpasses Nobody Move on every level.

I did read one more book for the read-a-thon – 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry by Henrik Lange, but I pretty much summed it up in my final post (hour 22). Therefore with these reviews I have brought the entire Read. Read. Read-a-Thon experience to a close. Fabulous event. Can’t wait to do it again. 🙂


  1. Glad you enjoyed Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, it’s a great book, loved your review. I haven’t read anything by Deni Johnson. I’m sorry Nobody Move was such a disappointment. It doesn’t sound like it would have been much better after a good night’s rest – maybe worse. ack! When and if I read him I’ll start with Tree of Smoke or something other than the book you read! Thank you for your honest assessment.

  2. Cat’s Cradle is such a great read. I should really give it a re-read at some point. It’s awesome that your readalong experience was so good! 🙂

  3. Amy – There’s definitely a time and place for the type of novel that Nobody Move was, and I didn’t mean to say that it wasn’t decent for it’s type. I just personally hoped for more from Johnson.

    Emily – If I didn’t have so much other reading to do this month I would read it again right now. Definitely next year. 🙂

  4. […] Compared to the last book I read that you could call crime fiction – Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move (and it’s so odd that I nearly read both of these books on the same day…!) – this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: