I’ll be honest right up front: that is probably the most clichéd title for a blog post or article or review of Slaughterhouse-Five. But it kinda makes the most sense, you know? Or maybe you don’t, because you haven’t read the book. I want to tell you that you should, but that is probably best saved for the ending of whatever this series of ramblings turns out to be.
I don’t know Kurt Vonnegut’s greater oeuvre very well at all. In fact, before I read Slaughterhouse-Five, the only work of his that I had read previously was a collection of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House. And even that I only read because one time Chris Kohler compared Mario Kart 8 to Harrison Bergeron. My lack of experience be damned, I would gladly tell people that Vonnegut is one of my favourite authors.
Perhaps my favourite author, on account of I don’t read enough to even know other authors.
Slaughterhouse-Five, if you are not familiar with it, is the story of a man named Billy Pilgrim and his experiences being a prisoner of war in World War Two. It is also the story of Billy Pilgrim’s life before and after the war, and the story of how he was abducted by aliens and kept in their zoo. It is also a semi-autobiographical account of a survivor of the bombing of Dresden in 1945.
The tale is told very disjointedly and not at all in chronological order, as Billy is “unstuck in time” and will randomly bounce between points in his life. This makes it a little confusing to follow at first, but the writing style is simple enough for even a man of my limited intelligence to grasp. However, it is immediately engrossing and the fragmented style ensures that something new is always grabbing your attention. One might suggest that Vonnegut’s unwillingness to stay on one story thread for more than a page or two at a time is flaky, that it’s the literary equivalent of jingling keys in front of a baby. But it worked wonders for me and my ever-diminishing attention span.
Like most books, and movies, and whatever other media I enjoy, I find it difficult to describe exactly why I liked the book so much. It was funny, it was shocking, and it very easily captured my attention throughout. I read the entire novel in under a week. The last novel I read took over two years. It also proposed many interesting ideas about religion and philosophy and time itself, but this work is called satirical. The problem is that I, with my not-good brain, can’t tell where honest opinions end and satire begins. For example, the entire book was about Billy Pilgrim adopting a fatalistic point of view, but I can’t tell if Vonnegut is championing or tearing apart that particular way of looking at life.
Despite the fact that I can’t properly articulate why I like this novel, I think it it’s easy to say why Slaughterhouse-Five is a good novel: It made me think. As few cylinders as my brain has, the book had them firing at all times; I was always pondering the theories and philosophies that Vonnegut was presenting, sincere or otherwise. And these ponderings continued even when I was no longer reading. Things I read are typically cheap fluff that has you follow a character for 200-300 pages and then put it all out of your mind immediately afterward. Such is why I’m even bothering to put these words to the page.
And so, we come back around to the point where I can finally tell you explicitly that I think you should read Slaughterhouse-Five. I highly recommend it. But as is always the case when it comes to reading, I must reiterate that I read so little that I can’t in good faith say that I have any taste in literature. Still, it was an exceptional read that kept me interested from the first page to the last.