There are some books that you read. The great ones, though, are the ones that you experience. This is a trait in all forms of art that I seek out, whether it be painting, poetry, writing, or music. I have a system on this blog where I rate things out of 12. I can easily say, however, that a debate goes on in my head each and every time I begin to type that rating. I cannot say whether or not I endorse even my own ratings. In fact, the system tends to lend to a sort of objective view of the novels I have reviewed, which I absolutely despise. Yet to deliberate upon this further is to take myself much too seriously. To quote Patrick Star: “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma.” Now that I’ve quoted Patrick Star I am sure that I am not taking myself too seriously.
Slaughterhouse-Five is not a novel you read, but rather one that you experience. In case you don’t know, Five is Vonnegut’s writing upon the U.S. firebombing of Dresden. It is also, though, his plain expression that it is not just the “bad guys” who are killing civilians, who are mercilessly bombing areas, or who acts as a machine calculating casualties in rather than understanding that it is people who are involved in war. Vonnegut guts his reader in truly asking the big question: Does life have meaning?
Traveling with his main character, Billy Pilgrim, is an adventure through space and time. Vonnegut sets out from the beginning to break apart a linear understanding of time, choosing instead to view life as lived out in moments that repeat infinitely. Yet, there is more here than meets the eye. Pilgrim living his life out in moments that do not play out in “order” is also an expression of PTSD, and further makes Five a true antiwar novel. One can never really be sure if Pilgrim’s mind is gone or not. He lives everywhere at once, bouncing back into moments and jarred back into everyday life by expressions and phrases and “memories.”
Billy Pilgrim knows when he will die. He knows when his family will try to say he needs to be put in a retirement home. He sees all things “before” they happen. This is Vonnegut’s fatalism and his chief way of asking whether or not life has meaning and also questions of morality. They are visions of a man who must ask himself, “With what happens at Dresden, with what I see in war, who I am to stop my own death? Who am I to stop anything if that was not stopped?”
This is a novel of life in the present. Upon reflection I am completely and utterly puzzled at the ability of Vonnegut to write the book. This review itself is a difficult thing to write playfully simply because the subject matter of the book is dreadfully serious. What I must do now, because it is plainly not apparent above, is express that the book is deeply funny. It would be a sin for me to not at least mention Kilgore Trout, one of the funniest characters I’ve ever experienced in literature, as another reason to read the novel.
This is a book that every person needs to read. I waited too long to read it. Slaughterhouse-Five is an absolute masterpiece. A perfect book.
Recommended to: Those who exist.
Avoid as if it was water with a family of hippopotamuses swimming in it: Those who do not exist.
“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five