I feel bad about this. This book is a ‘classic’, coming in at number 18 of the 100 greatest novels of the 20c, its a firm favourite of nearly all my fI feel bad about this. This book is a ‘classic’, coming in at number 18 of the 100 greatest novels of the 20c, its a firm favourite of nearly all my friends, and a whole lot of people I don’t know, yet it leaves me cold. Its a very mediocre book but. Darnit, it IS based on Vonnegut’s personal experience as a WWII POW from the Battle of the Bulge and subsequent bombing of Dresden, so one can’t very well apply the Nancy Pearl rule of 50 and be done with it: if for no other reason, then for the historical reference, for teh children, and all that. I mean, who am I to judge, given the circumstances.
Thus do well intentioned survivors tales be exalted not for form but content. That Vonnegut struggled with this novel is no secret, as he admits it in chapters one and two, where its clear the story is burgeoning out of his DNA, like something out of Alien, for twenty years after the event with no clear outlet: until this. It feels like one day he just sat down, rolled up his sleeves, and said ‘lets do it, come what may’. Sometimes this will work, other times: its a premature birth. And it does feel, here, a little shy of full fermentation. What was he even doing there? (being overseas). I have no idea what the subscription codicils were for lay Americans during WWII, but a side glean from Stoner shows it was voluntary, and another from Winesburg (yeah, OK, apropos WWI but same would still apply) that US citizens of (fresh) German descent were given the evil eye. Vonnegut was of clear German descent. Was it this which prompted him to ‘tuck in’? Did he have more to prove than most? He certainly gave it his best shot: apparently he never missed an opportunity to tell his German captors what he would do to them (in German), when the Red Army liberated him. And they never missed an opportunity to beat him black and blue. And so, perhaps this is why amongst all the other post war shock syndromes on exhibit we have in slaughterhouse5, there is never survivors guilt on the menu. Vonnegut had met the hydra head on willingly, and survived. End of. All dues duly paid.
So whats he doing in Slaughtehouse5? The usual. When something is too traumatic to relive, one detaches and maybe goes third person on it. Here, we have Tramalfadorians, whose UFO picks up Earthlings to...um...molest them. In the most delightful way. Billy Pilgrim (Vonnegut’s alter ego?) is beamed up on a spaceship and teleported or whatnot to Tramlafadore, where, in a zoo, he is mated with another Earthling, a drop dead gorgeous sex bomb. Which of course is heavenly. After which he starts a series of Doctor Who time sequence spurts (later fully exposed in the Time travellers Wife, a piece of drivel everyone seems to like as well), and so we achieve an irreverent reverent (if you see what I mean), retelling of purgatory, once removed. The usual. Yes, it has its moments.
There is something though which stays with me from this time travelling spaghetti memento mori: a brilliant passage from some Campbell scribe, who postulates on the concept of ‘poor’ as it pertains to American and European society. Which has nothing to do with the war, and everything to do with social anthropology, (which interests me). He makes the salient point that the poor in America are rather a despised bunch with no redeeming qualities, whereas in ‘old’ Europe poverty and intellectual attributes are a symbiotic mechanism irrevocably interlocked in the communal psyche: a poor man makes a better sage, as opposed to his American counterpart, whereby if he were so smart, why isn’t he rich?
Neway. Vonneguts grief is real, and it happened. I respect that. But. Who lets the dogs out, man?
Should be read as journalistic documentary proze for the philosophical issues it raises re gender. Well, as the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20Should be read as journalistic documentary proze for the philosophical issues it raises re gender. Well, as the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20. Obviously now, post factum, we can appreciate that gender is defined by nature not nurture. But this horrible Mengele experiment had to crystallise so we can be sure. And to be fair, at the time it was all unravelling, layer by sordid layer, neither the parents nor the medical profession thought they were using a human being as a guinea pig whilst playing God with David's body and soul. It was a horryfyingly gradual creep, as one ill fated decision led to another. ...more