Friday, August 3, 2007

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

When Kurt Vonnegut died earlier this year, I realized that I had never read a book by this legendary author. I talked to a girl I work with who raved about his work, and know a guy who does the same. So I put him on my mental list of "Authors I Must Read" and went about my business. A few weeks ago, while I was attempting to fill time until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, I picked up Slaughterhouse Five from The Cracked Book.

I had sort of anticipated Vonnegut reading like William Faulkner: slowly. I was wrong. Slaughterhouse Five was a very quick read, I read it in just one week of bus rides. :) The story is of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran who becomes "unstuck" in time after being abducted by aliens. Sound wacky? It is, a bit. But it's funny and tragic, too. Billy, in the war, witnesses the bombing of Dresden, which I knew nothing about and sounds horrific. Slaughterhouse Five is a war story, but the statement made is in regards to the product of war: a man who can find no true place in his life and seems to sort of go through the motions, looking for purpose, basically lost.

Perhaps I'm wrong and that wasn't what Vonnegut meant at all. Perhaps Billy really was abducted by Trafalmadorians. But in this day of war, how many stories do we hear of men who come home completely changed and with difficulty readapting to pre-war life? When I think of Billy Pilgrim, I see a man who witnessed and experienced the hard and tragic realities of WWII and came home and came up with a new reality. Because wouldn't we all like to find some way to come to terms with the violence and sadness in the world? That's what Billy does.

If I'm perfectly honest, while I was reading this book, I was entertained, but kept thinking, "What's so great about this?" Kurt Vonnegut has a reputation for being a great American writer, but on first glance this book was just an amusing story. Reflecting, you can see there is much more to Slaughterhouse Five than meets the eye. Perhaps I'll go back and read it one day when I'm not rationing out the pages to make sure I finish at precisely the right hour to go get my Harry Potter book. :)

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