These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five

by Kurt Vonnegut

(5/5 stars)

There are two words to describe this book: weird and wonderful. You could substitute "quirky" for weird if you want, because that's what "Slaughterhouse Five" is: a very quirky, oddball adventure through time and space. And it contains a valuable message if you decide to believe in the Tralfamadore view of things. I rather like their perspective that because someone was alive at some point then they are ALWAYS living, at least somewhere. (Though I suppose it's only comforting when you apply that to good people, because that definition also means that Hitler and other evildoers are always living somewhere too.)

The novel begins with the author struggling to find a way to tell the story of his experience in World War II as a prisoner of war and witness to the firebombing of Dresden, which took more lives (at least immediately) than the atomic bomb. He visits a friend and finally turns in a jumbled-up mess to the publisher.

This jumbled-up mess is the story of Billy Pilgrim who is (or thinks he is) unstuck in time. Because of this, his life is in shuffle mode, so to speak, where he randomly shifts from one point in time to another. At one point he might be standing in a field in Germany during the war, at another he's talking to the Lions club in upstate New York, and at another he's a baby in his mother's arms. Told chronologically, Billy enters the war near the end, gets captured, witnesses the bombing of Dresden, gets repatriated after the war, marries a large, rich woman named Valencia, has a couple kids, runs a successful optometry business, and gets taken to the Tralfamadore homeworld to be put in a zoo with a porn star. Billy even sees how he is going to die.

If the book were related chronologically and if Vonnegut didn't have such a way with language--his sentences lack poetic prose, but have the same quirky, seemingly random rhythm as the plot--then this book wouldn't have been nearly as interesting. The way it's jumbled up forces the reader to keep putting the pieces together, although Vonnegut has a tendency to over-foreshadow some things like the teapot incident. And the style makes reading a breeze because it's very relatable for the average vocabulary--no big words to confuse people.

The only real flaw is the overuse of the expression "so it goes" to mark anytime a person, place, or thing dies. Wikipedia's article on the book says there are 106 references. It seemed like many more. I understand what Vonnegut was going for, but it did get irritating before long.

I should warn you, though, that even if the sentences are easy to read, you do need to be the type of reader who can put up with the quirky nature of the book to read it. So it's not recommended to everyone. If you're up to putting together a puzzle and like a little sci-fi with your literature, then you'll be fine. Maybe you won't agree with Vonnegut and the Tralfamadore's view of the universe--maybe you like to believe in free will--but you should still be able to appreciate what a creative feat this book was and what a great author wrote it.

That is all.

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