Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos"

We humans have sure made a mess of this place. Sometimes I wonder if the world will ever recover, or if we’ll just keep multiplying, consuming and polluting until there’s nothing left. It’s taken nature and evolution billions of years to shape life as we know it, and we seem willing and able to destroy it in mere decades. Sorry if this sounds depressing, but that’s life.

Few writers are able to grasp these stark truths about evolution and destruction like Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite writer of all time, Vonnegut is king of showing humanity at its worst while making us laugh our asses off in the process.

His novel “Galapagos” asks a lot of interesting questions: What will happen if/when humanity destroys itself? What would the world look like if everyone died except for a few people? What if we had to start all over again? What will humans be like if they’re still around in a million years? Are our big brains gifts or curses?

I love the way Vonnegut unravels this novel through his narrator, who is telling the story of humanity’s near-total demise from a million years in the future. In the year 1,001,986, things are a quite different. Evolution has scrapped humans’ opposable thumbs and big heads full of brains in favor of flippers and simple minds. In Vonnegut’s vision, we swim around a lot, eat a lot of fish and usually die by means of great white attacks. (Great whites, of course, haven’t evolved at all because they’re fucking perfect at what they do.) As the novel progresses the narrator divulges more and more about who he is and what the hell he’s doing wandering around earth for a million years, watching humankind transition into some sort of aqua-mammal. Of course, being a Vonnegut novel,  there are countless great quotes about human nature along the way. 

This book is full of characters who come on the scene and die, their lives as fleeting as those of the blue-footed boobies of the Galapagos Islands. For this reason, the characters aren’t nearly as memorable as those from other novels, like Billy Pilgrim or, but Vonnegut’s quintessential character Kilgore Trout does make a few appearances. Considering this novel spans a million years, it focuses more on the (really) big picture as opposed to the details of specific characters. 

The structure is intricate and the style is comic genius. This is  definitely one of Vonnegut’s most imaginative works, which is saying a hell of a lot.

I’ve heard several of my friends and fellow Vonnegut fans say this is his best novel. I think I love several other novels more, but any discussion of Vonnegut's best novel is purely academic. Point is: this is as close to perfect as a novel can get.

Read it. Evolve.

1 comment:

  1. Vonnegut brought a zany yet scientific voice to life which pointed out the absurdities of modern life and warfare. I was inspired to embody him in a surrealist portrait on my artist’s blog which you can see at