"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Slaughterhouse Five

TITLE: Slaughterhouse-Five
AUTHOR: Kurt Vonnegut

I have a lot of classics on my shelves that I've never gotten around to reading. They hadn't been assigned when I was in school and I had so many other things I wanted to read once I was out of school. So I decided to work my way through some of them and started with Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut's anti-war masterpiece.

The story revolves around the Allied bombing of Dresden near the end of World War II, bookended with Vonnegut's own experiences in Dresden during the war and after. The prose is simple and felt dated, but it was still powerful in its ordinariness. The horrors of war are here, as Billy Pilgrim, our hero and Vonngeut's stand-in, goes to war as a chaplain's assistant, gets taken prisoner by the Germans, ends up in Dresden in time for the bombing, then goes home to get married and become an optometrist. He also gets unstuck from time, traveling up and down his timeline, and gets taken prisoner by aliens who put him on display in a zoo, along with a fellow abductee, a former porn actress. Did he really get abducted by aliens? Is he really traveling through time? Or did he wartime experiences leave him with PTSD and a need to make some sort of sense of his life? There is something so mundane in how Vonnegut describes the horrors of war, giving it the same tone and weight as everything else that happened in Billy's life that makes the war scenes worse somehow.

And the repetitive phrase "And so it goes" that punctuates nearly all the paragraphs in the book, a precursor, perhaps, for the more contemporary "It is what it is." There are things that can't be changed, so they can either be accepted or not. To not is to drive yourself crazy. To accept is to, perhaps, stay sane. But war isn't sane, and maybe a sane response isn't appropriate. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the story is the sort that inspires introspection. I'm glad I finally read this.