I don’t really know what to write about this novel that hasn’t been said, by myself and others. I will say, it is one of, if not my absolute favorite book. It’s a beautiful, genre bending, meta narrative that begs it’s readers to think a little harder. To try to see the world through a different lens. Among all the things that Vonnegut asks his readers to do, is to laugh in the face of great destruction and death, and the fact that time is time, and will do the damages that time was always meant to do.
I really don’t want to write much about the content of this book. Doing so teeters on a line of pretension and difficulty that I no longer have to balance on since I don’t write for grades anymore. I’ll just say, go read it.
I would like to mention a few things about the first chapter. First, the fact that it is labeled “ONE” in the book is the first indication of how odd this book will prove to be, very Vonnegut. It reads like a prologue. It is Kurt Vonnegut writing about himself, and how he came upon the idea to write Slaughterhouse-Five. But it is included in the body of the novel, and it should be. The novel is subtitled, The Children’s Crusade, A Duty-Dance With Death, and in this first chapter, we find out why, and it sets the tone of the rest of the narrative.
Basically it goes like this: Vonnegut meets up with an old war buddy a couple decades after coming home. The two are distracted by his buddy’s wife, angry for some reason that Vonnegut can’t understand. When he asks her what’s wrong she tells him she’s pissed about the book he’s planning on writing. That it will glorify war and make it so that more boys have to go die for God knows what reason because war movies and war novels make soldiers look like big heroic men conquering evil. In truth, these fighters are boys, little boys scared shitless and sent to die for something they couldn’t comprehend.
Of course, Vonnegut being himself is not interested in writing that book. His response to the woman is “I tell you what…I’ll call it the children’s crusade.” (Vonnegut, 15) And that is exactly what he does. From there, the novel rolls on with a child like perspective of the worst things that happen through the course of humanity: war, murder, death and destruction. Not only that, but Vonnegut has the gaul to think you should laugh while reading it. It’s heartbreaking in the moments when you realize that you’re laughing because you don’t want to cry.
I lend my books out quite a bit, especially this one, so I don’t know who did this. But there was a piece of a straw wrapper marking a page while I read through this time. Since the passage it was marking was about giraffes, and she loves giraffes, I’m going to assume it was my lovely girlfriend. In the scene, the main character of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, is having a wild dream about being a giraffe. It is a really lovely, funny, and happy scene. But it is a dream after all. What’s actually happening to the character is that he has just been through a hellish war, he’s being strapped to a gurney and shot up with enough morphine to keep him from screaming. I love that the paper that was left in my copy of this book had scribbled on it “read when sad” because this visual seems to match this novel perfectly.
We go through time. All of its horrendous moments are there forever, and certain ones are unavoidable blotches in our memories. Moments that we have to look at. Moments when we are strapped to the gurney and screaming. I think these moments are hard to look at, but essential. Sometimes we have to look at them because there is something to be learned. Other times, we find ourselves walking through gardens with giraffes, and these are the moments we like to focus on. Sometimes we need these moments to counteract the strapped to the gurney moments. And all of these moments are on a continuous loop of time, wether you would like to think that as literally, if you can come unstuck in time and visit these moments physically. Or if you are a bit less imaginative like myself, and just recall them as memories. They are all there, and they are all important. If that makes any sense, I think that is what Slaughterhouse-Five is about. If it doesn’t make sense, then great! Go read it yourself, it’ll be more rewarding than this.