knig's Reviews > Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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Jan 03, 13

bookshelves: 2012
Read in December, 2012

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 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so one can’t very well apply the Nancy Pearl rule of 50 and be done with it: if for no other reason, then for the historical reference, for teh children, and all that.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?

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

If it's any consolation this is my least favorite Vonnegut book, and I love just about everything else I've read by him. I have often wondered if there was something wrong with me for not liking this one more, so it's a relief to finally find someone else who was also not enthralled.


sckenda I was introduced to this book in a lit to film class back in college. I have always liked it, but I came to it young before I had read other subversive/absurd/comic antiwar novels (like Catch 22). I admire the way Vonnegut took his trauma and turned it into art. He wrote it during a time of trauma in the USA (the Vietnam War and during a rash of political assasinations). I understand his melancholy. The moment is structured that way.

"Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from the home I live in all year round, was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes. Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes. And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam. So it goes.


knig Sean wrote: "If it's any consolation this is my least favorite Vonnegut book, and I love just about everything else I've read by him. I have often wondered if there was something wrong with me for not liking th..."

I remember his other stuff fondly as well, but I read it years ago. I'm apprehensive at the thought of a re-read, I want to retain the 'feel good' factor he gave my youthful enthusiasm. Maybe, like Steve points out above, if I'd read this way back in the day, it would have gone down differently.....


knig Steve wrote: "I was introduced to this book in a lit to film class back in college. I have always liked it, but I came to it young before I had read other subversive/absurd/comic antiwar novels (like Catch 22). ..."

Isn't it amazing how he lived through the most electrically charged times, starting with WWII and then Kennedy and King? I still like catch-22 better though. As it happens, am reading a WWII 'memoir' yet again, totally different style, surprisingly good:

The Long Voyage


Kimbrrrly I understand Vonnegut's humor more now that I'm older, and normally I love his writing style. This is one of the most readable war novels from an American perspective. However, the needless dog murder scene literally makes me sick, so I can't rate it as highly as I otherwise would.


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