This book does not belong here. Despite being written by one of the most renowned comedic authors ever, it is not a comedy. While it is full of wit, insight, and creativity, it is not full of chuckles.
Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany at the end of World War II, Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a goofy yet gentle and unassuming kid from upstate New York who becomes “unstuck in time” during his brief involvement in the war mainly as a POW.
Once unstuck, Billy sees his entire arc of life and begins making random quantum leaps back and forth along his personal timeline seeing everything from his birth to his death many times over.
In adulthood, he is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfalmadore who teach him a lesson on time explaining that all moments in the past, present, and future have always existed and always will exist. Rather than seeing time linearly where once a moment has passed it is gone forever, they see time much like we would view a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All moments are permanent and they can look at whatever moment interests them.
To my retarded tunnel-vision brain, however, it seemed like he was living his life linearly, but simply warping up and down the line randomly. Forever.
My brain did not like the idea of this. It seems like a horrifying episode of The Twilight Zone.
But I’m sure the Tralfalmadorians would just shake their heads at me.
If I wanted to be a stickler – which apparently I do – I would say that my un-evolved outlook was actually substantiated when Billy came across a face he recognized but couldn’t place. If he saw his entire past, present, and future the moment he became unstuck, no “future” acquaintance should go un-recognized. Ever. In fact, there should be no surprises in one’s entire life. Which would suck because surprises are one of the best parts. Ask any kid. So suck on that you condescending Tralfalmadorian fart-heads.
Anyhoo, the real strength of this book is Vonnegut’s imagination and way with words. He has a certain style and point of view that seems to make anything he writes worth reading. He’s creative, unique, and interesting. He knows how to turn a phrase and how to write with substance and power.
Which is key, because ultimately, Slaughterhouse-Five’s message is something that your 9-year-old could tell you. “War Is Hell.” Well, your 9-year-old might instead say, “War Is Heck,” but then again your 9-year-old is a pussy.
To sum up, while this book should not be on this Review, it should be read. Not for its anti-war message (or for its fatalism theme which somehow struck me as both depressing and inspirational – again, my brain is border-line retarded), but for Vonnegut’s gift for writing.
If you are looking for laughs, this is not your book, but if you are looking for a thoughtful, imaginative, and moving story shedding light on a particularly tragic event of war, I highly recommend this. And I cannot wait to read more Vonnegut stories whether comedy is a main ingredient or not.
Bonus quote for your wiener anti-war kid: (Billy is watching a WWII movie in rewind and we pick up midway.) When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.