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Publisher's Summary

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 reader) 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.
©1990 Kurt Vonnegut (P)2015 Audible Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Amazon Customer on 07-10-17

One of Vonnegut's absolute best.

Simply put, If you love or merely like Kurt Vonnegut you will feel the same about Hocus Pocus. The narration is also excellent for this audio book.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful


By Darwin8u on 12-28-17

The complicated futility of ignorance

"The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

Having read Timequake prior to reading Hocus Pocus (these are his last two novels), I was glad I reveresed the order. While I wasn't blown away by 'Hocus Pocus', it was moderately better than 'Timequake'. Hocus Pocus was a bit wide at the hips. Vonnegut was covering a lot of ground with this novel. He was looking at issues of race, war, economics, politicis, education, money, culure, prison reform, ptsd, marriage, death, intimacy, and more. There were a lot of little punches by Vonnegut, but none were knockouts.

Two of the idiocycracies in this book: 1) no swearing. Vonnegut's narrator, aka the 'Preacher' is an teacher, warden, and former Vietnam War officer, who is known as the "Preacher" because he doesn't ever swear, so Vonnegut mutes his language. 2) No numbers written as numbers. So, instead of writing "one friend", Vonnegut's narrator writes "1 friend". It all seems a bit forced and contorted for Vonnegut. I prefer my KV unplugged a bit more.

A couple of my favorite Vonnegut quotes from this novel:

-- "Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance."

-- "[M]an was the weather now. Man was the tornadoes, man was the hailstones, man was the floods."

-- "I think any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever the people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today."

-- "Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe."

-- "It’s misleading for people to read about great successes, since even for middle-class and upper-class white people, in my experience, failure is the norm. It is unfair to youngsters particularly to leave them wholly unprepared for monster screw-ups and starring roles in Keystone Kop comedies and much, much worse."

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5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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