The Rabo Karabekian Memorial Deathmarch: Week 5

OK, we have a quorum at least, so let’s keep moving.

For those who may have fallen behind, let’s set a modest page count for this week: let’s meet at the end of Chapter 10 of Mr. Rosewater:

“And look who’s winning. And look who’s won.”

6 Responses to “The Rabo Karabekian Memorial Deathmarch: Week 5”

  1. Bill Says:

    In case you find yourself wondering:

    “Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists are part of a larger sub-group of Baptists that is commonly referred to as “anti-mission” Baptists….Elder Daniel Parker (1781–1844) was one of the earlier ministers to speak out against the “missions” movement….

    Parker taught that all persons are either of the “good seed” of God or of the “bad seed” of Satan (the children of the good seed are roughly equivalent to the “elect” of Calvinism, and those of the bad seed similar to the “non-elect”), and were predestined that way from the beginning. Therefore mission activity was not only unbiblical, but as a practical matter useless, since the “decision” was already made prior to birth.”

    Which makes this a somewhat ironic thing for Eliot Rosewater to claim to be, does it not?

    Carry on.

  2. The Old Man in KS Says:

    This week I was struck by similarities between Aaron Sorkin & Vonnegut. When I viewed The West Wing & Newsroom episodes years after they first aired, the controversies the story lines circled around still seemed relevant to current events, as do those Vonnegut takes on–such as how to relate to the inequalities of wealth & poverty. And like Sorkin, Vonnegut is careful to create characters who expound on the different sides taken in the controversy–such as the exchange between Reed McAllister & Stewart Buntline, when the latter felt his unearned wealth should be given to the poor. And like Sorkin, Kurt rarely misses a chance to mix in funny dialogue such as “One of the principal activities of this firm is the prevention of saintliness on the part of our clients.” And instead of language like “wake up & get to work,” Harry Pena says “Drop your cocks & grab your socks.”

  3. Annie C Jaisser Says:

    Eliot’s become a more sympathetic character after we learn that his small town “saintliness” and do-good fixation on firefighters/stations resulted from his war trauma (unbeknownst to his clueless father, of course.)

    Uncanny how some of the issues brought up parallel those of the current election: role of government in our daily lives, sickeningly uneven distribution of wealth and what to do or not do about it, class, greed and cheating…

    And then there’s the disturbingly visionary clue accounting for the unfathomable support of Trump in some female quarters:
    “Amanita and Caroline expressed, each in her own way, disbelief that a man that virile [bankrupt Harry Pena] could ever have a business failure.”

  4. Jim Walters Says:

    Compared with interlocking intensity Cat’s Cradle,” the plot of “GBY Mr. Rosewater” seems to drift and sometimes almost stalls.

    For example, Eliot’s unfinished novel about reincarnation, souls returning to earth from heaven, quoted from the back of his ledger, (p. 249 in the American Library Edition) strikes me that way. It’s an odd detour that ends with the implication that Eliot could be inhabited by the soul of Richard the Lionhearted….but so what? Richard Coeur de Lion was certainly no saint.

    Similarly, the various tales of Eliot’s kindness to anyone who calls the Rosewater Foundation tend to ramble without either making a point or advancing the plot: absurd, but not very humorous. His dialogue with Stella Wakeby (p. 251) seems totally extraneous, a complete stall. Where were his editors when he needed them?

    Vonnegut’s sarcasms and parodies are neither delicate nor subtle. His characters are mostly caricatures, usually deviants, miscreants or lunatics of various stripes. Their views can either be utopian or dystopian, but never normal. His sculpts his stories with a sledgehammer and populates them with freaks that might today be characterized as a “basket of deplorables.”

    The economic have-and-have-not theme of “Mr. Rosewater” seems sympathetic to socialism, and possibly even communism. One of the least subtle of many episodes that illustrate this sympathy is the “supremely ironic moment in history” (p. 255) when Senator Rosewater asks Eliot, “Are you or have you ever been a communist?” Eliot responds by telling his father how the rich take slurping lessons from lawyers and tax consultants, who help them obtain even more wealth from the “Money River.”

    I love the concept of the Money River, wherein, if you’re born to wealth, you can “slurp as much as you want,” but quietly, so no poor men can hear you. Perhaps this tickled me because I’ve long harbored conflicted feelings about having myself grown up not too far from the green banks the Money River.

    Another savory bite of socialist irony is served up in the pamphlet Old McAllister sends to Stewart Buntline about the dangers of social security and other forms of welfare. Vonnegut has already pounded home the greediness of the rich; now the pamphlet countersinks that point by showing us that the rich see welfare recipients as being not just shiftless, but also greedy, always crying, “More. Give me more. I need more.” (p.280) And thus the greedy rich, like Stewart Buntline, who have never needed to work, are instructed to scorn the greedy poor, who, they believe, refuse to work.

    I get the impression that, although KV despises the excesses of crony capitalism, his sense of economic egalitarianism is more highly developed than his sense of social equality. He writes, not about gays, but about “rich American fairys (with) junk jewelry eyes.” Little people are “midgets.” The Lebanese are rug merchants and greedy, oily-eyed lawyers. Bokonon, the rare black character, is a madman, a charlatan and mass murderer. KV does not seem especially respectful of minorities. But then, it’s difficult to determine who he DOES respect.

    Despite my nit-picking, I’m still eager to see what evil blessings Norman Musharif will bestow upon the Rosewaters and the Buntlines. Onward!

  5. bill Says:

    Jim’s comments are apt, and I must admit that I too have been troubled by some of the attitudes on display in this book. Vonnegut has long been one of my heroes, and it brings me no joy when he lets loose with offensive stereotypes. His attitudes toward gays in particular are certainly unenlightened, if not entirely unsympathetic.

    This will come up again in “Breakfast of Champions” — where we’ll also see some pretty rough racial language thrown around, though I don’t think that KV was a racist, beyond the background racism endemic to anyone raised in this culture. In fact I think he felt a righteous rage toward the inequalities of American life, which is amply displayed here. But his expression of this rage is sometimes crude; for instance, he is quick to dismiss the lives of Rosewater County’s poor and middle-class as being worthless and useless.

    Question — and I honestly haven’t made up my mind about this — can a misanthrope accurately be accused of racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, and other forms of prejudice? Or does hating everybody pretty much cover it? “Cat’s Cradle” was certainly misanthropic, “Mr. Rosewater” maybe even more so. Although I have to say, I don’t think that Vonnegut himself was a true misanthrope; I think that he had a lot of love in him, but was subject to severe depression, and had a frustrated idealist’s dark outlook on the world we actually live in.

    The bits in “Rosewater” about children of suicides are plain references to the author himself, whose mother killed herself on Mother’s Day 1944 while her son was home on leave from the Army. Combine that with his experiences in WWII — about which we’ll learn more in “Slaughterhouse-Five” — and you can see that he came by his cynicism honestly.

    As for KV being “sympathetic to socialism, and possibly even communism”…well, it certainly seems like it, doesn’t it? Some of his books have been banned at various times in this country, and reading “Rosewater” now, it seems a wonder that they weren’t all banned, and that he wasn’t run out of the country on a rail. It may have helped that for a long time he was pigeonholed as strictly a sci-fi author, and thus not a person to be taken seriously.

    Now that I think of it, “Rosewater” was his first book with no sci-fi elements at all. Had it come after “Slaughterhouse” — his mainstream breakthrough — it might have been more controversial.

    On the whole, I think that “Rosewater” definitely belongs in the “lesser Vonnegut” category. I’ll repeat here the quote I posted last week from William Allen, who called it “more a cry from the heart than a novel under its author’s full intellectual control.” I’m not dreading these last 50 pages, but I don’t think I’ll be sad when it’s over, either.

  6. Jim Walters Says:

    I’m curious to see what becomes of Harry Pena, the professional fisherman, condemned by his doctor to work outdoors, like his father. So far he seems to be the only named character in “Rosewater” presented with uncompromising admiration. He’s introduced as a “very healthy man” (p. 272) He speaks with a crude, earthy humor, and unlike either the idle rich or welfare shirkers, works with his back and hands to actually EARN his living.

    He and his “two big sons” actually LOVE their work! They “were as satisfied with life as men can ever be.” (p. 289) These three happy, healthy laborers shine among the story’s many pathetics and deplorables: hearty, colorful characters that could have been plucked from a Hemingway novel. They know that the idle rich voyeurs dining inside the Weir watch them with no appreciation, understanding or sympathy for their gutsy, hardworking lifestyle. “Fuck ’em all, boys” says Harry, untroubled.

    But we are forewarned by Bunny Weeks that Harry is destined for financial ruin. I don’t doubt that Vonnegut has set up these uniquely happy, healthy characters for a hard fall.

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