I picked up this beautiful copy of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five while in Barnes & Noble with a few friends a couple of months ago. It was on a table set aside for summer reading and I immediately fell in love with the volume. I had been wanting to read it for some time because I have heard so much about it in the past, so I added it to my stack of books and carted it away to the cashier.
Slaughterhouse-Five is primarily the story of Billy Pilgrim. Billy is a World War II veteran who claims to have been kidnapped by aliens called Tralfamadorians that kept him in a zoo and taught him that the way humans see time is wrong; that a person always exists in one place or another; that death isn't really as permanent as we seem to believe.
Prior to this, or because of this (it isn't made clear), Billy has managed to come "unstuck in time." Throughout the narrative, he jumps around from one point in his life to another, painting us a picture of what he experienced and every hard truth he came across.
The back of the book has this to say about the contents of Vonnegut's novel:
Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world's great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
"Splendid art . . . a funny book at which you are not permitted or laugh, a sad book without tears." -Life
I believe that synopsis describes it perfectly.
Going into Slaughterhouse-Five, I have to admit, I was worried that I wouldn't like it. I'm not exactly antiwar and Adult Fiction in general isn't really my forte. I hated Catcher in the Rye (though I'm told it's much better on the second read) and Slaughterhouse-Five is often clumped in with Salinger's work by being an American classic/high school required reading/banned book. The first two chapters didn't help either. I didn't know much about the book to start with and I was left utterly confused when it began as a first person narrative and morphed into third.
I ended up loving this book.
Slaughterhouse-Five is an extremely well-written look at the horrors of war as well as the inevitable nature of the insane things that happen to the average person. It is one of those books that draws you in with its oddity and its dark humor and keeps you enthralled by the wisdom it offers up throughout.
He uses Pilgrim's being "unstuck in time" as a way of keeping the reader interested throughout and gave him the ability to tell the story in a non-linear way that gave the reader insight into the things in the past that caused present and future repercussions. This way, he could focus on the main points of the story without disconnecting from the reader while also pointing out the futility of time and how quickly it moves- so that it often seems like everything is running together at once.
While one might expect this to grow confusing as the story goes on, it only becomes clearer and easier to follow after the second chapter. Vonnegut clearly put some great effort into making this technique as easily read as he did and it worked for him. I grew to love that part of the writing style almost as much as the rest of his mastery of the written word.
I could go on about how much I enjoyed this book, but I'd rather leave some of it for you to read. It's only a little over 200 pages and hardly took any time at all. If you're looking for a good read, this is definitely the book you're looking for. (And be sure to pick up the one with this cover. It's too beautiful to pass up!)
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.