Confession time – At almost a fourth of the way through Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, I was still expecting for the main character to somehow get to the Chicago slaughterhouse district because I had confused this novel with The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which I read in high school.
Whew! That literary fail is now off my chest – onto the review….
Slaughterhouse Five is actually a semi-autobiographical novel about Vonnegut’s World War II experiences, as told through the character of Billy Pilgrim. While the story is about Billy’s experience, it is actually told via an unreliable narrator who occasionally reminds us that he is telling the story by slipping into the first person two or three times throughout the novel.
This book does not have a linear plot line, and for the first time in our books thus far, I didn’t mind it! Billy believes he was captured by aliens and became “unstuck” by time, so the story is told through a number of past and future time travel experiences that bounce back and forth between various points of the war and throughout Billy’s life in general, including the time he spent with an attractive celebrity as an exhibit in an alien zoo.
Due to these experiences, Billy has a dispassionate view towards death and has even seen in future travels how his own will take place. To Billy, when someone dies they no longer exist in that timeframe, but they do exist in a past timeframe where Billy will see them again. It’s very similar to The Time Traveler’s Wife in that regard.
This all works together remarkably well, as I was pulled right into Billy’s stories of aliens, war, optometry school, and all. The non-linear plot line via time travel worked for me because they were clearly defined; in other words, each time he travels, it’s stated when and where he traveled to. It was like riding a mad tea cup ride – zing! Now we’re in 1945 at the Slaughterhouse in Dresden… zing! Now were in 1976 at a convention in Chicago…zing! Now we’re in 1947 at the birth of Billy’s son, and so forth.
There are a number of secondary characters whose stories we follow when we travel back to their time frame in the plot. There were also a few asides that just made for an interesting page turner. For instance, at one point we meet William Gluck, a young German charged with guarding Billy and another soldier when they arrive at the Slaughterhouse. After an entire subplot involving Gluck accidentally loading them into the wrong area and some commentary about how Gluck and Billy have a similar look, the narrator notes that, “they are distant cousins, but they never discover this.”
Onto some quotes (with Kindle locator numbers):
- “I got into some perfectly beautiful trouble, got out of it again.” (235)
- “All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.” (323)
- “All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet.” (347)
- “Somewhere the big dog barked again. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.” (581)
- “Derby now came to lugubrious attention.” (1236) There it is again! We also had a lugubrious sighting in To the Lighthouse.
- “…Trout lugubriously slung the bag from his shoulder…” (1939) Twice in this book, not once on my GRE.
- “She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies.” (1975)
So there it goes. I loved it. I didn’t think I would with the backdrop of World War II, but I loved it and give it an
Onward to Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Keep Reading!