And so it goes.
Have you ever had too much to say about a book? Because that’s Slaughterhouse Five.
I feel like I should do a whole college paper on Vonnegut’s classic because there’s just too much to unpack. I’m actually going to be a day late on this review because I’ve wrote and deleted so much, just trying to decide what to focus on. There’s just too much to talk about!
So I apologize for this brief review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, no matter what I write it will pale in comparison to what the novel deserves. I just hope I can help someone decide whether or not to give the novel a try.
Billy Pilgrim, a man “unstuck in time,” time-travels throughout the moments of his life, and if that wasn’t exciting enough he also gets abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadorians. We follow Pilgrim as he jumps from one moment in time to the next, and he explains the wisdom he has gleaned from his captors.
To many, the non-linear storytelling might be too jarring and I usually would agree, but Vonnegut is a talented beast of a writer. Every ‘jump’ seems to flow from one to another, and the reader gets a clear idea of who Billy Pilgrim is and his current state of mind.
The pivotal moment of Pilgrim’s life was becoming a POW in WWII, where he was taken to Dresden at the time of the city’s destruction from firebombing. Tens of thousands were killed, and Pilgrim (along with the a hundred Americans hiding in a deep cellar of a slaughterhouse) were lucky to have survived.
What I found interesting right away was the first chapter’s (and last chapter’s) narration, which is in first-person from what seems to be Vonnegut’s point of view. He explains some of the elements that brought this story together. All of the war parts come from Vonnegut’s experience, as he did survive the Dresden firebombing.
“All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.” (pg.1)
Slaughterhouse Five is a different type of anti-war book, one that focuses on the absurdity of war. War that belongs with the same story of time-travel and alien abduction. The novel isn’t impactful on a gory or visceral level, like most anti-war media, but on a subtle level.
Pilgrim is riddled with guilt from surviving Dresden, and his inability to cope with that guilt (and the violence) is what leads him to PTSD. Pilgrim needs the Tralfamadorians to tell him that there is no ‘free will’, and through them he can revise his personal history.
There are many books that I hope to re-read some day but there are few that I know I will re-read, and Slaughterhouse Five is now on that list.
So it goes.
In the Margins:
- These Tralfamadorians are one step away from being this nightmare creature:
- Vonnegut in the Forward of the 1976 Franklin Library Edition:
“The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.”
- Next week I’m finally going to get to The Magicians by Lev Grossman!