Tatiana's Reviews > Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
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really liked it
bookshelves: classics, fantasy-sci-fi

I'm usually a chatterbox when I finish a novel, ready to burst out a review. That's not the case with Slaughterhouse-Five. Cut me some slack if the following analysis is a bit choppy. It was a tough book, and I mean that in two ways: 1) it was a heartbreaking, tough subject matter, and 2) there were irritating quirks and so tough to read (“So it goes,” e.g.).

My issues with the book are, ironically, all acknowledged by Vonnegut in the text. He comes right out at one point and declares that there are no characters, no dramatic confrontations in the story “because most of the people in it are so sick.” And he was being honest. While there were characters, lots of them—maybe too many—there were few highlights. I will say this for Slaughterhouse-Five: it had tremendous flow. It was easier for me to read and read, instead of coming back to it and orienting myself in the narrative again. But in that flow was a monotone hum, like fingers holding down the same arrangement of chords on a piano; every once in awhile they lifted up and refreshed the resonance, pressing down on the same keys once again.

Vonnegut also calls this work a failure, which had a reverse psychology effect on me; I wanted to prove him wrong and love it. There were moments I did love, that were so authentic that it hurt to read. Know that moment when Billy arrives in Dresden and he looks out at the beautiful city, and from behind the voice of the author says, “Oz.”? I lost my breath. It reminded me of that scene in The Pianist when that German guard tells Wladyslaw not to run, walk. It’s that infusion of reality. There’s nothing stranger, nor more human, than real life.

The story itself I found fascinating. Billy Pilgrim was fascinating. He's a sort of Forest Gump-type character: ignorant of the monumental history taking place around him. He’s child-like in some ways, most significantly in his apparent inability to digest the horrors of war. In order to deal with what he saw in the war, he has to create these fantastic theories of time travel and alien species to simplify the world, to construct those experiences in such a way as to make them bearable. The Tralfamadorians offer him the tools to do that, from their idea on the simultaneous nature of all events, to the belief that no one ever really dies, they just aren’t in the same dimension anymore, to their equalizing phrase, “So it goes.” I speculated the whole way through as to whether Billy Pilgrim was suffering from a mental breakdown, PTSD episodes, hallucinations, or was actually “unstuck in time,” traveling in and out of moments from his life, and being beamed up by Tralfamadorians and put on display. (Time travel is an excellent technique to illustrate PTSD attacks.) With the way it ends, I’m inclined to think that the answer is in one of Kilgore Trout’s much-ignored sci-fi novels.

Guess I had more to say than I thought. Hm. I’m not handing out a star rating yet. I want to think about this important novel for another couple days, wait and see what has a lasting effect on me, and decide then.

ETA: So it's been a couple days since I finished Slaughterhouse-Five, and I've decided to give it four stars because when I thought about it as an autobiography, rather than strict fiction, its impact on me doubled. I think it's a valuable novel with a moral message still relevant today, epsecially as it relates to the treatment and understanding of war veterans.
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Quotes Tatiana Liked

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Reading Progress

October 27, 2010 – Shelved
October 27, 2010 – Shelved as: classics
July 12, 2017 – Shelved as: fantasy-sci-fi

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