Sunday, June 24, 2012

So It Goes: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Delacorte, 1969

Though I have always been a reader, I can’t say that many of my friends were growing up necessarily. I’d usually devour whatever I could get my hands on, but I must admit that the year Cat’s Cradle  by Kurt Vonnegut was on the summer reading list, I bought a copy but just couldn’t get into it.

Suddenly, my status as a “reader” was called into question by my non-reading friends. They read and loved Vonnegut, so how could I not? All I can say is that at the time, something just wasn’t clicking and I hoped to someday try picking up Vonnegut again and the results would be different.

Fast forward to spring break, 2012. My friend and I are in a used bookstore in Wilmington, North Carolina and I decide that the time is as good as any to accomplish my goal. I bought a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s best known work that still remains an incredibly popular anti-war story, and braced myself.

Billy Pilgrim is an interesting (and yet ordinary) man by many accounts. He’s an optometrist. He’s incredibly average except for in three major ways:

1. He gets unstuck in time. He experiences his life out of order, going backwards and forwards, sometimes living the same parts of his life and death over and over again.
2. He’s been to the planet Tralfamadore and was abducted by the Tralfamadorians who see everything in the fourth dimension and house him in a sort of zoo.
3. He was a prisoner of war in WWII and survived the bombing at Dresden.

I wish I had something really clever or moving or profound to say about this book because I thoroughly enjoyed it. When time first started to become unstuck for Billy and the aliens were first mentioned, I expected to be lost or put off, but the plot flowed back and forth, exploring facets of humanity and horror in ways that I’ve never seen a book do before. It is also important to know that there’s an autobiographical slant to the story because Vonnegut actually was a POW who survived Dresden, so this is a man who knew of what he was talking about.

But my words are failing here where Vonnegut’s managed to soar. This book was constantly making me stop and think, which is very high praise coming from me. I can see why so many of my friends who weren’t, and still really aren’t, readers like this book – it does things that no other book I’ve read can and it takes the story on in a darkly humorous and poetic way. I’m now looking forward to finding my old copy of Cat’s Cradle and giving it another well-deserved shot.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!


  1. Kurt Vonnegut has the coolest quotes but I've never read a book of his. I hope to do so eventually. Great post :)

    1. I so agree! I'm glad to have finally read something by him, but I also still think that in high school, I just wasn't in the right place yet to be able to appreciate it. Thanks for your comments! =)