I think the first time I heard of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five was back in high school; it was on my AP English reading list. This is one of those novels that I waited so long to read and had such high expectations for it, but I ended up rather disappointed. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those “cult classics” and I found out why. It’s so obscure and odd, and it will set your teeth on edge in a very literal sense. No pun intended. This one is definitely not for general audiences in my opinion. But, I imagine that if you enjoy modernist or post-modernist work alla James Joyce’s Ulysses then, I take it back, this might work for you.
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
The plot is essentially non-linear which means that the story line jumps from different time periods and different locations. The narrator is, in literary terms, considered unreliable because he seems to be struggling with PTSD and/or some kind of severe memory issues. Honestly, he was one protagonist that I thought was absolutely crazy. And, I found myself skipping forward in the narrative because I couldn’t take the mental gas-lighting. It causes intense mental dissonance. Yet, I think that’s the point that Kurt Vonnegut is trying to make. The mental illness – whatever the kind – can have actual physical symptoms and/or act almost as a type of interpersonal infection. And, it could be masked by other external, environmental factors. Since the novel essentially acts like a 2D experience, the experience of the narrator is contained but simultaneously magnified in the mind of the reader. This book can be mildly to moderately triggering to those who have actually experienced trauma, just an FYI.
All this happened more or less.
So, who’s our time traveling protagonist? One Billy Pilgrim. Omg, what a hick billy, American name. But, I think that was the intention – that he is such an average guy to whom such incredible things happen. He time jumps from his college days, to the Cold War Era in Europe, to an entirely different planet named Tralfamadore where humans are kept in an alien zoo. Billy Pilgrim marries Valencia Merble and eventually even predicts his own death. He lives through a lot! And, the plot that leads to his death unravels with an even more supernatural element. I guess that by the time the reader is done with the novel the predominant sense is Oh God this is so fucked up.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York; Random House Publishers, 12 January 1999.
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.