Szplug's Reviews > Mother Night

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
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Nov 13, 2009

liked it

Right up front Kurt Vonnegut explains the moral of this short novel: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. We then are shuffled rapidly through a cast of post-war men and women wearing masks, decked out to publicly play an adopted role, whilst concealing their true feelings and being underneath. The champion dissembler is Howard W. Campbell Jr., a former deep-cover American operative in the heart of Nazi Germany, who so brilliantly espoused propaganda and spat venom he did not believe in that he convinced the world of his rabid support for a cause he was secretly fighting against.

Years later he is living a quiet and faceless existence in New York City, his service to his country never acknowledged, the damage of his words reverberating still. As is its wont, life decides to alter the tempo of the music of its pageant, and whilst this new dance steers Howard inexorably towards a date with the hangman, a parade of new and old faces enter and re-enter his life; love once more warmly kisses and then coldly bites; and certain old truths and beliefs are shown to have been lies and illusions all along.

My expectations for Mother Night were quite high, having read so many glowing reviews over the years. I feel like I should have loved it, whereas I could only muster up an appreciative like. I knew I wanted something further from the story and yet couldn't quite assemble a concrete grievance from my lingering dissatisfaction; perhaps it's that I didn't find Campbell a particularly compelling character, his story a bit too abstract to hold close; perhaps Vonnegut confounds through an ability to impart a relatively simple and straightforward prose with a humor and meaning that, compacted so efficiently, lends itself to to being underestimated, underappreciated. It will be interesting to see if Slaughterhouse-Five—whenever I finally give it its overdue due—will affect me in the same manner. In any case, Mother Night, like so many books, should benefit from a second reading down the road and a reappraisal made of its more mature charms.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls If you haven't seen the movie adaptation of this, you should . . . like the book, it's an undervalued masterpiece!

message 2: by Cal (new)

Cal I completely agree! Nick Nolte is often an unappreciated actor but a stellar performance in Mother Night. Cal

Jason I think I might like Mother Night even more than Slaughterhouse-Five. I think it's my favorite Vonnegut. I loved the ambiguity of Campbell's character even though, as you say, the reader's relationship to him is held at a distance.

Edmund Davis-Quinn I adore Slaughterhouse Five and completely agree with you on Mother Night.

Szplug Thanks, Edmund. Sadly, I haven't yet gotten around to getting around to S-5. This one sits fondly in my memory, but nonetheless would still only earn the three stars. High expectations are a perilous thing.

Hopefully, I'll be able to completely agree with you at some point not too far from now...

Stef Smulders Feel the same about this one!

Jason Stef wrote: "Feel the same about this one!"

I hope you guys like being wrong, all of you. Because you are all like, so wrong.

Szplug I don't feel wrong.

message 9: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Jason wrote: "Stef wrote: "Because you are all like, so wrong."

Yep. Wrongongongongong.

Szplug You two are assaulting my subjectivity with your objective impertinence. To which I can only offer the following rebuttal: Pthpfft.

message 11: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Film. Nick Nolte, John Goodman. Beautiful film. Must see. Might change your mind. Vonnegut has a cameo.

Szplug Undeterred by a raspberry, eh? Bold!

I should emphasize that I liked this quite fine—three and four star ratings, in particular, dwell upon either side of that ephemeral-in-itself line of really, and I could have gone either way with this: the opting for three only a nod to how high those expectations were heading in, which is always perilous for an author.

I will watch the movie, though; more importantly, I'll make time for Slaughterhouse-Five too—and I have that movie adaptation awaiting the book's completion on my PVR...

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