Molly's Reviews > Mother Night

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
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Nov 30, 2008

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This early Vonnegut book begins with an introduction wherein Vonnegut claims that the story's moral is a warning that we are what we pretend to be. What follows is an editor's forward, signed by Vonnegut, which introduces the purported text of the confessions of Howard J. Campbell. Campbell was an American spy (although the American government cannot/will not confirm this) who as a German radio propagandist during WWII communicated secret messages to the American government. The text itself, with its seemingly tongue-in-cheek introductory moral, its self-reflexive work to ensure that every character dons a disguise and poses as something he or she both is and is not, and its work to indiscriminately mix fictional and historical events and characters offers a mostly-compelling example of what ultimately becomes Vonnegut's trademark themes: truth's fiction and the (darkly humorous) possibility of life's essential meaninglessness. What makes the story most compelling is the narrator's effort to foreground the story's construction. By dramatizing the construction of a story that claims to be truth (or at least the truth contained in "confessions"), the story asks readers to consider the inherent constructedness of all truth. The full exploration of this theme is undercut, however, by a not-always-successful dependence on sarcasm and irony to deepen the main characters. The book is entertaining (and a very, very quick read) and brings up important issues. I imagine it a very worthy book club pick or other group-centric reading.
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