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Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


Drew Payne

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Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

This is the premise of Kurt Vonnegut’s greatest novel, but it is far more than that.

As a middle-aged man, Billy Pilgrim is a successful optometrist, dully married to his wife with two children. As an elderly man, Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadores, and kept as an exhibit in their zoo on their home world. There he meets and starts a relationship with Montana Wildhack, a beautiful model who is abducted to be his companion. As a young man, Billy Pilgrim is a chaplain's assistant in the American army, during World War II. He is woefully undertrained and under resourced and is soon captured. As a prisoner of war, he witnesses the carpet bombing of Dresden.

This novel does not have a linear format, the story jumps around in time with many sections not following on chronologically from the previous one, but this only highlights Billy Pilgrim being unstuck in time, it also highlights the fractured nature of this story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make this novel easy to read, but it is only one of the elements that make this novel a difficult read.

All that said, this is a novel worth the effort of reading it. In my opinion, it is probably Vonnegut’s best novel. The description of Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through German-occupied Europe, as a prisoner of war, is so memorable, from moments of loss and deep atrocity (the nightmare bombing of Dresden) to moments of almost farce.

Vonnegut presents all of this with a cool and unsentimental approach. Lesser writers would have milked the tragedies here for every drop of forced emotion that they could, but Vonnegut just presents them as events that happen. When a character dies, the narration simply states, “So it goes.

This novel, in part, has been said to have been Vonnegut trying to understand what he saw and what happened to him during World War II, but it is no less for that. It is one of the great anti-war novels because Vonnegut wrote about real events with real-world consequences. What lifts it well above a simple anti-war sermon is Vonnegut’s storytelling and the scope of his imagination.

This is not an easy read but it is worth the effort. I recommend it; even if it is the only novel of Vonnegut’s you read, it is worth reading.

So it goes.

 

Find it here on Amazon

 

 

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