May 25, 2015

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I'd never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before and had this recommended to me.  That was over five years ago and I finally picked up a copy at the local book store to give it a try.  The messages were interesting, but because of the book's style, I can't say that I liked it or found it to be an engaging read.

Billy Pilgrim can travel in time.  He's also been to war, survived the bombing of Dresden, been abducted by aliens, and survived a plane crash; not necessarily in that order.  But then again, order really isn't important is it?  When he was abducted he was put into a zoo and mated with another female earthling.  Because of his time traveling, he is not always in that place though.  He bounces around from being an optometrist to being a lousy soldier who shouldn't have probably been drafted.  And as such eventually ends up as a Prisoner of War where he has to live through numerous atrocities, the least of which being made to wear a woman's coat.

Billy is a strange character.  My take on the book is that he suffers from mental illness (not necessarily a result of the war but certainly amplified by it) and that the course of the book is his head coping with his surroundings.  Because of that I'm never really sure what's "true" in Billy's life.  Certainly the alien abduction is suspect, but it seems like the plane crash could be real.  Because Billy is a somewhat unreliable (but reliable to his own thoughts) narrator, I'm not sure we're supposed to know.  I can't really say I felt one way or another about any of the other characters.  They weren't focused on as heavily as Billy and I didn't read about them enough to care.

So now that I have read some of the other reviews here, I've learned that this book is anti-war.  Or has a strong theme of it.  I didn't know that going into the book but there are certain parts that would make you suspect it.  The callous "so it goes" expression being one of them.  Used at the sign of every death it shows meaning but also a cold voice to the truth of how deaths are calculated in war.  And then there's the bombing of Dresden, which is fractured in this book and you could miss it if you're just skimming through, but still very much an important time in Billy's life.  To me this book was more a look at mental illness and potential PTSD.  Billy's mind is erratic and chaotic and he doesn't always deal with situations in the ways that he should.  If the style jumping around wasn't so aggravating to me (I prefer a linear timeline) I might have appreciated how the book read like a confused mind would, not necessarily staying in any time sequence and only bouncing back and forth like a stream of consciousness thought would.  But that style unfortunately doesn't resonate with me and instead made me want to rush through the book as quickly as I could and get it over with.  Which means that I probably missed some meaning along the way.

Would I read it a second time?  It would take a lot for me to.  I'd probably gain some more insight in doing so but weighing the time against reading something new it would be a very hard choice.  I can see why this book is popular, I just unfortunately couldn't connect to it like the majority of the population seems to be able to.  This is a high-star book for a lot of people, but for me personally, it falls among the average as there are several other books with deep meaning out there that I found more readable and engaging.

Copyright 1969
215 pages

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