Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

As an avid reader, I have a pretty solid stack of books sitting in a pile next to my bed, waiting to be read.  I also have another stack in my office at work, and a couple more situated in key areas around my apartment.  I honestly can't remember the last time any of these piles shrunk; in fact they grow at a pretty steady rate.  Given my love for reading, as well as my hatred of throwing my hard earned money down the toilet, I know that I will eventually get around to reading all of them.  At the same time, I also have a slightly different stack of books to read.  This stack is stored somewhere deep in my brain, and consist of books that fall under the category, "Oh man, I really need to read that!"  These are books that I see others reading, or glance at on store shelves, or even hear about on TV, the radio, or from friends.  I file their memory away in my brain for later retrieval.

For quite a while now, maybe even several years, "Slaughterhouse Five" has fallen into the deep recesses of my brain's book pile.  It remained there until just a few weeks ago when suddenly I happened to remember it on a trip to Barnes and Noble.  I've been hearing a lot about Vonnegut lately, as more and more people recommend his work to me.  "Slaughterhouse" is of course his most famous work, and considered one of the best English novels of the 20th century.  Critical acclaim usually doesn't mean much to me, but due to all the hype I decided to give "Slaughterhouse" a shot, and dove right in.

The book tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become "unstuck" in time.  According to him, he was kidnapped by a race of aliens called the Tralfamadorians, and put in one of their zoos.  Due to their influence, they have enabled him to become unstuck in time, which means he can see and travel between all the moments of his life in in any order.  The story goes between Billy's younger days, his days as a soldier in World War II, his life after the war, and his later years as an older man.

The majority of the story revolves around Billy's time in the war.  As I read the story I couldn't help but think about Forrest Gump.  Billy is a lot like Forrest, a slow-witted man that is somewhat oblivious to the world around him, and yet also likable due to his innocence.  As a character, Billy is everything that war is not, and yet he finds himself in the midst of one of the worst wars the earth has ever seen.  There are many political statements made throughout the book, playing off of this contrast of character and setting.

While I did enjoy the book, I have to say that I wasn't blown away by it.  It is written in a great style that I really enjoyed, but at the same time the story never really sucked me in like I had hoped.  The main problem I had with the book was that I never really found myself caring about Billy.  He was likable, but not lovable.  I understand why Vonnegut made Billy the way he did, but I found it hard to care about him as the book went on.

Even though Billy is less than lovable, one could easily argue that he isn't even the main attraction.  The real gem of this book is the descriptions of the effects of war.  Vonnegut does a great job of describing what war is really about, and focuses on what happens when the war ends, and yet doesn't really end at all.  The war has an end date in the history books, but the effects last for years to come.  Broken lives, destroyed cities, generations forever changed.  These are the real starring characters of the book, and the ones that stay in your memory long after reading the last page.

There are many things to appreciate about "Slaughterhouse Five," and really only one or two minor complaints.  The writing style was fantastic.  The story was thought provoking, and kept me interested till the end.  The story is full of humor, social commentary, and moments that can't help but tug at your heart.  I also really liked the sci-fi aspects of time travel and the alien influence.  I'm a sucker for anything science fiction, so that was fun and added some great variety to the story.  As already mentioned, my only real complaint was with the character of Billy Pilgrim, and while I didn't connect with him, I completely understand that if he was any different the story would have a much different feel and effect.  You can't really blame Vonnegut for making Billy the way he did.  He just didn't really work for me, and personal preference is of course, personal.  In the end, "Slaughterhouse Five" was an enjoyable read, that kept me thinking long after I finished reading it.  It also inspired me to read more Vonnegut, which is of course one of the best endorsements a book can get.

1 comment:

  1. Another great post! Looking forward to seeing which book you pull out of your pile next.