Brilliant. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is brilliant. I realize many won’t appreciate his writing style, or the tale itself but I was all caught up in it. I loved the pace, the vernacular, the effortless ease by which the main character, Billy Pilgrim, danced through time, through his life, experiencing events from his birth to his death, to his time on another planet with the Tralfamadorians. Yes, it is a wild and creative story.
I saw the film nearly twenty years ago. I couldn’t remember much about it when I started reading but the scenes were quite vivid and the recollections returned.
Billy Pilgrim has become unhinged from time. He is not in control. He moves randomly from event to event in his life. Forward, backwards, it doesn’t matter. One second he is at home with his wife, the next he is hospitalized after a plane crash that killed nearly everyone else in the plane, then he is living in a zoo-like-dome-structure on a planet with a beautiful woman, and then he is in the city of Dresden during the allied aerial bombing. He lives his birth. He sees his death. He has a wife who dies, a son who gets in trouble as a teen only to become a green beret in Vietnam. He knows how everything will pan out, what all happens and yet he is unmoved, never argues or even considers changing anything leading up to events, even the bad ones.
He learned from the aliens on Tralfamadore that ‘everything is alright and everybody has to do exactly what he does.’
The Tralfamadorians see time differently from humans. They compare earthlings to a man strapped to a rail, his face fitted with a pipe, unable to see anything to his left or his right – just the pipe. And they he moves on that rail, hurled uphill and down, through curves, always only to see through that pipe.
There are many memorable characters in Billy’s life, many of them not so nice or kind. He does find affection in the arms of a female movie star named Montana Wildhack who is forced to share the alien dome with him. There are several soldiers during the war who don’t take a kind liking to the frail, overwhelmed young man, often threatening his life, Roland Weary, Edgar Derby and Paul Lazzaro, who swears he will one day take Billy’s life.
Billy is an optometrist seemingly not by choice, after a mental breakdown. While laid up in a hospital, he meets Professor Rumfoord who is writing about the war and the bombing of Dresden, although he doesn’t really want to hear about it, only focusing on what he believes was a wartime necessity, despite the enormous death toll to civilians.
Billy also reads and eventually meets his favorite author, a snarky old man named Kilgore Trout who believes in time travel and aliens, and writes about them.
Slaughterhouse Five can’t be accurately quantified by any means. I believe it simply needs to be experienced by the reader. Some will be turned off by the race from place to place. That’s to be expected I guess. It is different. I, however, found it exhilarating, with some truly unique insight into the psyche of humanity and the acceptance of the inevitable.
So it goes.
Allen M Werner is the author of the epic fantasy series The Crystal Crux
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