I have not read very much of Vonnegut's work but I feel confident saying that after this read, I will definitely be pursuing more of his catalog. The story of Hocus Pocus is simple and straight forward, so much so that the reader should probably be warned that the book does not follow the traditional plot that one would expect to find; there is no buildup of tension, no plot development, no climax or denouement. The book is written in an autobiographical format but in a way that I think most of us would write the story of our life if we were left at a desk and whatever paper was available to write on. We would scour our recollection for vivid memories that are important to us and dedicate them to paper in whatever order they happen to come in.
The main character of Hocus Pocus, the narrator who spends most of the book detailing his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam as well as his post-war experiences as a teacher at a private school and following that, at a prison. His story weaves in and out of these events, doubling back and jumping forward to the point that at times you lose track of where you are and what he is talking about but I find the narrative voice of the book to be so rich that even moments like that don't seem to bother me vary much.
I should say that in general, I am not a huge fan of the first person. I find that it tends to be very limiting in terms of how much of the universe of the story you are privy to. Additionally, you are constantly at risk of misperceiving certain events because everything you are being told is coming from the "mouth" of the narrator. In some stories, this can be effective but much of the time I feel like I am too much in the head of one character and oblivious to all the others.
In this case, the voice of the narrator is so engaging and fascinating to listen to, that I find myself at times enjoying the book even though I'm not entirely sure why. It's like having a college professor who is so far over your head that you understand a fraction of their lectures but you show up at every class regardless, just for the pleasure of hearing them speak. In the book, he has a number of lines that made me laugh out loud, not the least of which were the equivalents to cursing that he uses throughout the book. Just to list a few:
“Any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.”
“I am not writing this book for people below the age of 18, but I see no harm in telling young people to prepare for failure rather than success, since failure is the main thing that is going to happen to them.”
“Despite our enormous brains and jam-packed libraries, we germ hotels cannot expect to understand absolutely everything.”
“Just because you can read, write and do a little math, doesn't mean that you're entitled to conquer the universe.”
I am normally not a fan of the use of repetition but I think he does it splendidly here and has really created a unique voice with an outstanding use of self-deprecating humor and satire. It is so good that it would have kept me reading even if the book had been four times longer. It was a pleasure to read this book and I'm sure that it will go back into the rotation for another go-around before too long. After all, the book made me laugh like hell.