ebook, 336 pages.
Read from October 2, 2018 to October 10, 2018.
It’s been years since I read Vonnegut and I had clearly forgotten how witty and dry his humour and writing style can be.
Set in a futuristic but realistic world, Hocus Pocus follows Eugene, a Vietnam war veteran, who through a strange turn of events finds himself a teacher at a private college for wealthy youth with learning disabilities. Eugene is an unremarkable man who ends up marrying a woman with a family history of mental illness, and after she follows her mother into madness, Eugene begins a number of affairs with other women. Eugene then ends up becoming a teacher at the local prison after being fired for misconduct because a student at the college randomly recorded his conversations and comments which, of course, were then taken out of context. That, and Eugene also gets caught shagging the wife of a big head honcho of the school. While he is working at the prison there is a prison break that results in a bloody scene at the school in which the prisoners barricade themselves inside and start killing people off. Eugene is then mistakenly named as one of the ringleaders in this prison break and soon finds himself imprisoned and dying of tuberculosis.
Eugene’s story is a strong satire and commentary on everything from war, capitalism, politics and sex, just like many of Vonnegut’s other works. However, in comparison to Vonnegut’s other works, especially his masterpieces like Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle, this book falls a little flat in terms of interest and readability. You need to get about 75 pages into this book in order to feel some sort of interest in the story and to find the flow of the plot and narration. Eugene narrates the story while he is already in prison as a reflection of what really happened in his life prior to his conviction and tuberculosis diagnoses so it does take a bit to figure out what’s going on with the timeframe of the plot but I suppose it is to be expected since Eugene informs the reader that he is writing his story on scraps of paper making the story seem like a large series of digressions.
While this book combines a ridiculous story with humour, profound wit and commentary all at the same time, it was not a novel I generally enjoyed reading. I liked most of it but I did not find it as captivating as some of Vonnegut’s other works. If you are a Vonnegut fan, however, and have not read this book, I would still recommend it.
Also, for those that have read the book, Eugene mentions that he realizes that while he was in Vietnam he killed a certain number of men and that number also ended up being the same as the number of women he has slept with.
If you’re curious about the answer to his math riddle the number can be found in some inside covers of the book with an illustration.
I also happen to find someone good at math who broke down the numbers:
Eugene Debs died on – 1926
Arthur C. Clarke movie – 2001
Hitler’s birth – 1889
The gestation period of opossum in days – 12
Divide by square route of 4 – 2
Subtract 100 times 9 – 900
add the greatest number of children from one woman – 69
1826 / 2 = 913
13 + 69 =