I had a bit of a fright reading Rosewater; for, at some point, I found it comparable in approach to the worst novel in the English, or perhaps any, language, Atlas Shrugged. Like those of Ayn Rand, Vonnegut’s characters are one-dimensional caricatures, and the universe in which he places them resembles reality only to the degree that he wants it to.
True, Rosewater has a sense of humor, and the story is told with wit and compassion, traits wholly outside Rand’s limited range. But, as Jacob with the angel, I found myself wrestling with the fear that my deep love for Vonnegut and my deep revulsion for Rand stem not from some empirical reflection on their work but from the possibility that I share the world view of one and reject the world view of the other.
Yet, there are characteristics of Rosewater, and all Vonnegut works, that define his distinction beyond the mere notion of whether one agrees with him or not. For, the simple fact is that this book uses farce to scratch the surface of truths about human nature, whereas Rand attempts to build natural human characters into a vision of the real world and ends up creating a philosophical and juvenile farce.
Like other Vonnegut works, Rosewater is replete with laugh-out-loud observations and odd-ball characters – not the least of them the wannabe do-gooder rich heir Eliot Rosewater, his curmudgeonly traditionalist U.S. senator father and, of course, the inimitable cynic/genius/nut job Kilgore Trout. But it’s important to realize that Vonnegut knows his characters are cartoons, and he knows you, the reader, know it, too. He uses these cartoons to draw you into another world and in the process reflect and analyze our own. Rand, by comparison, hasn’t the faintest idea her characters are all comic stick figures or that the world she creates bears no resemblance to reality.
So, I’m comfortable and confident acknowledging God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as a four-star classic. It’s far from my favorite Vonnegut, and – everything I’ve said to this point notwithstanding – it reflects what I see as a misguided cynicism about humanity, about culture and about technology in all Vonnegut’s work. But it is certainly entertaining, and along the way will challenge you to consider important themes such as economic injustice, environmental destruction and the abuses human beings heap on each other.