Monday, November 2, 2009

"Slaughter House Five" 
Kurt Vonnegut
Published 1969  
I know this a long review but please read it because I highly recommend this book!! And this is why I chose to read the top 100 novels because I wouldn't have had this experience otherwise. 

What can I say, I love Kurt Vonnegut!  His frank, dark and often self deprecating humor causes a desire in the reader to literally ingest "every word".  It truly is a 2 a.m. book that is put down when your contact lenses are burning and you're out of eye drops.   Vonnegut uses his past in WWII as a p.o.w. in a German Camp and the bombing of Dresden as one of the many dimensions experienced by Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist).  
Billy Pilgrim is an ordinary man from Iliad, New York.  He's a scrawny pipe of a guy, weak, weary and prematurely gray/bald in his twenties.  His time traveling starts during the war, as he has crossed enemy lines with 2 scouts and a pain in the ass named Roland Weary who is described by Vonnegut as eighteen and from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  "He had been unpopular in Pittsburgh.  He had been unpopular because he was stupid and fat and mean, and smelled like bacon no matter how much he washed.  He was always being ditched in Pittsburgh by people who did not want him with them. When Weary was ditched, he would find somebody who was even more unpopular than himself, and he would horse around with that person for a while, pretending to be friendly. And then he would find some pretext for beating the shit out of him."  

When Billy is about to be 'done in' by the bloated Roland, Germans come along and capture both of them sending them to Dresden where they are housed in "Slaughter House Number Five".  Billy time travels to all different points in his life.  
The Tralfamadorians  (aliens) show up at a certain time in Billy's life and kidnap him to guide him through his  fourth dimension experiences.
Billy can visit any point he would like to in his life. The Tralfamadorian view of life can be described as such: 

"All moments past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.  The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance.  They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them.  It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.  When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.....So it goes." 
I like that! 

Billy can be riding in the train as a p.o.w and the next moment he is visiting :
*His forties as a successful Optometrist.
*His marriage to the Senior Optometrist ample daughter Valencia.
*Different points in his children's  lives.  
*Visiting an impatient mental institution reading Sci-Fi novels by Kilgore Trout
*Has an airplane accident
*His wife dies of carbon monoxide inhalation
*Starts going on radio talk shows revealing his times as a captive of the Trafamadorians.  When he was kept naked in a Zoo.  

He had to be kept in a Zoo, where the conditions of earth were simulated.  He was naked at all times, but his Zoo environment was quite nice with furniture and modern appliances stolen by the Tralfamamdorians from 'Sears and Roebuck'.  At all times he has a Tralfamdorian audience, which at least leads Billy to finally have 'body confidence' because they think everything he does is just the most spectacular thing they've ever seen (especially when he uses the bathroom).  But just Billy isn't enough, so the ever considerate and accommodating Tralfs provide Billy with a partner to mate with, Montana Wildhack (a B movie actress), "and so it goes".  

This novel was so enjoyable that I was laughing aloud or shaking my head every few pages.  But on the flip side, it demonstrates the inhumanity of war/life in it's harshest form:  
"I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time.  This was true.  Billy saw the boiled bodies in Dresden.  And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of human beings who were butchered by the brother and fathers of those schoolgirls who were boiled.  Earthlings must be the terrors of the Universe!"
"Slaughter House Five"......Read It!   


Cara Powers said...

You really have made me want to read Slaughter House Five again. I'm not so sure I should thank you given the size of my TBR pile.

Greg Zimmerman said...

Vonnegut is so freakin' awesome. God rest his soul. Nice review! This is one of the few books I've ever read (Confederacy of Dunces and Catch 22 are two others) that made me laugh out loud while reading!