Bokononism, ice-nine, puppet dictators, and oodles of erotic foot rubbing—this is the one where Vonnegut really cuts loose, establishing himself as a counter-cultural icon and postmodern wizard. The novel is set on the fictional island of San Lorenzo, where a couple of storm-tossed cynics have invented a new religion completely out of lies. It all works just fine until the arrival of the Hoenikker children, spawn of a Nobel Laureate physicist and father of the atom bomb, who carry with them a lot of hurt feelings and the seeds of the apocalypse. Vonnegut here starts experimenting wildly with style—“telling” more than “showing,” and boiling down both syntax and chapters into ambiguously charged, nearly mystical statements. It’s also the novel for which he invented an entirely new religion and that finally earned him that anthropology degree from University of Chicago.

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