Hocus Pocus Part One

Posted in Book Reports, Library of Congress by chamblee54 on September 4, 2015









There was a copy of Hocus Pocus on the shelf. It had been there a while. The fancy, cut out cover was half torn off. The Book Nook stamp, from the old location, said it been a while since it was purchased. The old Book Nook is a McDonalds now. The gentrification of the neighborhood marches on.

PG was not sure if he had read HP. He decided to start, and read until he was either bored, or saw that he had already read HP. It is about half way through now. The only familiar joke is prisoners calling AIDS the pb, or parole board. Since Kurt Vonnegut recycles his jokes, that may be in another book.

KV likes to refer to his other books. There is a text in HP, “The protocol of the elders of Tralfamadore.” At the point of HP where this book report is written (p.159 paperback, p.71 .pdf ) there has been no appearance by Kilgore Trout. The three word mantra, “so it goes,” does not appear. The paperback has 165 pages to go.

HP does not have much of a plot. The central character is Eugene Debs Hartke. Gene was born in 1940, which was fourteen years after the politician Eugene Debs died. PG was born in 1954, or fourteen years after Gene Hartke was born. Of course, PG is writing this book report, so he is probably a legitimate human being, whereas Gene Hartke is almost certainly a fiction.

Gene Hartke is not covered in glory. He stumbles into West Point. During his post academy military service, Mr. Hartke (his military rank is not easily available) goes to Vietnam, and kills a bunch of people. After leaving Saigon in a helicopter, with the American adventure crashing around him, Mr. Hartke gets a job at Tarkington College, in Scipio NY. Any relation to Fran Tarkington is ignored.

The college professor thing works well for a while. Unfortunately, Mr. Hartke enjoys adultery, and people want to get even with him. Mr. Hartke is fired by Tarkington College, and takes a job at a prison nearby. (The prison is called Athena, which sounds like Attica.) After a breakout, Mr. Hartke is accused of being a ring leader, and becomes an inmate. This is where the book stands now.

HP was copyrighted in 1990. (The mandatory New York Times promotional piece, written by Jay McInerney, is dated 09/09/1990.) The firing of Mr. Hartke takes place in 1991, and the book is set in 2001. HP was written during the last days of the cold war, and set at the start of the war on terror. This turn of events was not predicted by KV.

The late eighties were interesting times. There are lots of jokes about that era in HP, some of which will seem mysterious to younger readers. At the time HP was written, Japanese interests were buying large chunks of the world. In HP, they own the prison. Local debts are paid with yen, and fellatio.

The Reagan-with-Alzheimers era was also the time of leveraged buyouts, and hostile takeovers. The concept of buying stock in a company, in hopes of selling out for huge profits in a hostile takeover, was known as arbitrage. In HP, many rich people lost their money by investing in a flimsy company, Microsecond Arbitrage. This probably is not a joke about Microsoft.

As always, KV is up to his clever wordplay, and humanistic outlook. A devious conservative media star “gave him his supercilious, vulpine, patronizing, silky debater’s grin.” The recipient of this grin wanted to carve, on the walls of the Grand Canyon, “WE COULD HAVE SAVED IT, BUT WE WERE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP.” This was during a debate about the environment. When HP was written, there was concern about nuclear winter, and a coming ice age.

There are lots of factoids in HP, many of which check out. Napalm was, indeed, invented by Harvard researchers. Later,a minor character said the battle of the Alamo was about slavery. A google search was ordered. When you type in “the Alamo was abo” the two choices are “the Alamo was about slavery” and “Alamo abortion clinic.” It turns out that Mexico did not like slavery, while Texas did.

At the half way point of Hocus Pocus, it is still entertaining. PG will probably finish it, unless the Chamblee library has something entertaining. Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.











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