Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
on January 1st 1970
Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don't let the ease of reading fool you - Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy - and humor.
I read Slaughterhouse Five for three reasons: 1) I had recently read a few fiction books with stories about magic, 2) I wanted to know what the title meant and 3) I had some faint memory of seeing Kurt Vonnegut in a movie and wasn’t sure if it was true. Note: it was the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield classic “Back to School” where Vonnegut makes a cameo as himself.
The book often shows up on “banned books” lists so this added to my interest in reading it.
*** Spoilers ahead ***
All I knew about the book was the phrase “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time” and I had no idea what that meant. As I continued reading the book it became clear and when the time-travel showed up as a plot device I was hooked.
The parts of the book that made the biggest impact on me were when people would die and the narrator would say the well-worn words “So it goes.”
When Mrs. Pilgrim dies of carbon monoxide poisoning because she kept driving her car after getting in an accident while on the way to see Billy in the hospital after he was in a plane crash, :deep breath:, there are so many emotions going in opposite directions I think it represents how ridiculous death is and seemingly how random and unfeeling the Universe can be.
And when people die around Billy during his time in World War II either in battle, the POW camp, or in the fire bombing of Dresden, the same random+unfeeling music starts to play.
The book eventually described the reason behind it’s title and it’s devastating. A few days after I finished the book Amanda and I watched a Rick Steves travel show where he visits Dresden. In Rick’s upbeat narration that plays over video of a sunny city with beautiful buildings and city squares he mentions the WWII fire bombing. It was a nice follow-up to the book to know that the city and people were able to rebuild.
This was book number 25 of 52 for 2017.