Aldrin's Reviews > Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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Jun 24, 10

Read in November, 2009 — I own a copy

I was introduced to Mr. Vonnegut when I first read his terrific short story, 2 B R 0 2 B . In no more than 17 virtual pages (I read it online for free), the famous American writer deftly painted a picture of a negatively Utopian and morally ambiguous future, where consensual homicide is endorsed by the powers that be and is just an operator-assisted phone call away. Reading 2 B R 0 2 B, I was afforded a taste of Vonnegut's immense talent as a satirical, absurdist science fiction writer--a brief yet rewarding glimpse at his aptitude for dark comedy and socio-political commentary, which I later rediscovered in its most potent form while reading his most celebrated novel, Slaughterhouse 5 , whose main narrative begins thusly:

LISTEN:

BILLY PILGRIM has come unstuck in time.

Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.

He says.

Billy is spastic in time, has not control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.

At the center of Slaughterhouse 5 is Billy Pilgrim, easily one of the most unforgettable protagonists in American literature. He was (or claimed that he was) a time traveler. He said he first came "unstuck in time" while serving in an infantry regiment in Europe during the Second World War. As a result, he began living in a nonlinear fashion: he would have erratic flashbacks and flash-forwards whereby he "relived" different moments in his life. These moments could be as mundane as having dull conversations with his obese wife during their honeymoon; as poignant as gurgling and cooing while his mother wrapped him, a mere infant, in a towel; as bizarre as making love with a B-movie starlet while on display in a zoo in a distant planet called Tralfamadore, home to the fatalistic Tralfamadorians; as crucial as having an assassin's laser gun's crosshairs in the middle of his forehead; and as epoch-making as surviving the infamous firestorm of Dresden by taking cover, with other prisoners of war, in the eponymous meat locker.

It is a high compliment to Mr. Vonnegut that forty years after its publication, I read the novel for the first time, found it stylistically fresh, and surprised myself by finishing it in less than a sidereal day. I knew right then and there that I had just read one of the greatest books of the last century. At the same time, I vowed to name my firstborn after him. Brilliant artists tend to have that effect on me. And in evidence to Mr. Vonnegut's brilliance, I reproduce here my favorite passage from Slaughterhouse 5, a narration of a war movie seen in reverse by Billy Pilgrim:
American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

On that note, as one of Mr. Vonnegut's countless fans I ought to borrow his famous reductive memento mori:
So it goes.


--
Originally posted here.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Emir Never (new) - added it

Emir Never Stellar review, thanks!


Aldrin Gee, thanks! :)

It's one of the few fixtures in my ever-changing list of top ten books. I love it to bits. It's less an anti-war novel than a depiction of man's constant war for and against the persistence of memory and time itself.


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly You're a unique, exceptional reader. First time I've seen one who, whenever he encounters brilliant artist/writer, would want to fuck, sire and offspring, and name the child after the artist/writer.
One disadvantage though: you'll have fear reading writers with names like Ngugi Wa Thiong'o as you may find them brilliant too.


Aldrin Joselito wrote: "You're a unique, exceptional reader. First time I've seen one who, whenever he encounters brilliant artist/writer, would want to fuck, sire and offspring, and name the child after the artist/writer..."

Haha! Thanks for the heads up. I pray then that I never have to encounter excellent works by writers with such difficult names as Ngugi Wa Thiong's--lest the fruit of my loins commit patricide.


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