The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Or: Why I'm Reluctant to Reread Vonnegut)

January 18, 2015

I checked out The Sirens of Titan via Kindle Unlimited and read it as part of the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge and Bout of Books 12.

TSoT follows the story of Malachi Constant, a very lucky, very aimless man who's been told his fate by a time-traveling man and his dog (the dog time-travels, too): he'll marry, have a child, and end up (after a few detours) on the Saturnine moon of Titan. Throw in a mind-controlled, Martian army camp, long reflections on the concepts of free will and destiny, a strange woman, and a Tralfamadorian, and ta-da: you've got the recipe for a Vonnegut novel.

That's not to say it isn't a good book.  I didn't like a single character in it, but, thankfully, likable characters do not a great work make. In typical Vonnegut fashion, the one-liners are clever and biting, and the commentary on human nature is spot-on, as always:
"... the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree." - pg. 8
"'Just because something feels better than anything else,' he said in his thoughts, 'that don't mean it's good for you.'" - pg. 207
"I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all." - pg. 233  
But, as you can probably tell, I'm having trouble thinking about this book as a standalone work. Did anyone not read Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in high school English class? I'm talking Slaughterhouse-Five: po-tee-weet, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, so it goes, etc. (Naturally, this is the quotation that stands out most in my mind, because high school.) I've read a fair number of Vonnegut's novels (SH-5, Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle), but my memories of them are now dim at best, so much that I'm inclined to want to reread his bibliography to get a better overall picture.

But, at the same time, I'm not, because I think I've gleaned what I most need to from this most recent read. To me, his books generally (though not all, see CC) follow the same vein: absurd things happening in space, with a generous dose of sex (and misogyny), war, and fatalism sprinkled on top. This is certainly reductionist of me, but it's mostly that there are so many other books out there, and I'm unmotivated to spend time re-reading these.

I'm not saying that Vonnegut's work is not both masterly and important. Vonnegut was a cornerstone in my literary education and opened the door for me to think more widely about the world at large and what it means to live and die as a human being (yep, don't even care how cliché that sounds). As a believer in determinism and someone who's never read Vonnegut, I think my boyfriend would get a lot out of this book. But, at the same time, maybe he just ought to read SH-5 and leave it at that.

Overall, TSoT is a solid work in Vonnegut's repertoire. My rating reflects more my own feelings about the context of this particular read than on the quality of the work itself. Hell yeah, freedom of speech/opinion.

What do you think, reader? Should I set aside time to reread Vonnegut's work? Do you want to throw tomatoes at me? Talk to me!

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  1. I wouldn't say tomatoes, but.... LOL. No really. You should read what you wanna read, when you wanna read it. No, I have never read Vonnegut. I only recall a few high school books I had to read, and hated, but I don't remember Vonnegut being one of them. I definitely hated being told what to read in HS and I don't remember liking any of the few book I remember reading.

    As for re-reading, that's up to you. I'm not a re-reader. I've re-listened to the Harry Potters and The Night Circus on audio but they are almost the only books I have re-read. I re-read 3 others this past year because they were the first books of series that I started YEARS ago and decided to pick up and go through them all. Other than that, I'm not a re-reader. I doubt I'll re-read anything this year except maybe the last 2 HPs (I'm on my 2nd re-read of them on audio. I listened to Jim Dale the first time and most recently I've listened to Stephen Fry.) and maybe The Great Zoo of China, I'd like to experience it in audio form, but for the most part, no re-reads. I'd rather discover something great and new.

    So, all of this is to say that in your post topic you used "reluctant". I think that answers the question. Why re-read something that doesn't make you WANT to read it? There's too much out there to discover that you haven't read yet, so I'd say you should discover something new and keep, at least these re-reads, tucked away.