Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year: 1966
Genre: Literary fiction

So much has been said about this book that I'm not going to attempt a comprehensive review. Since this is a reread, I'll focus on what I noticed in particular this time:

Imagine that Billy Pilgrim's daughter Barbara is right, and that Billy's time travel and Tralfamadorean dreams are, in fact, hallucinations. He's experiencing an extended episode of post-traumatic stress disorder initially brought on by his presence during the bombing of Dresden. He can't look at his wartime memories, but neither can he look away, so he feels that he has come "unstuck in time." Everyday events remind him unpredictably of the horrors he witnessed (typical of PTSD sufferers, I believe), leading him to see them so vividly that he believes he is literally reliving them.

The constant bouncing between 1945 Dresden and 1960s Babbittry, together with the all-too-human wishful belief that someone out there knows all the answers, starts to take its toll on Billy's sanity. Becoming the sole survivor of a plane crash pushes him off the deep end, and he invents himself some someones in fantastic Kilgore Trout style. The result is the Tralfamadoreans, whose four-dimensional sight tells Billy just what he has always wanted to hear: that one cannot totally escape from horror, but one can ignore it. 130,000 people burned to death? So it goes.

My father also reread Slaughterhouse-five recently, and found it to be a shallow book with little to offer beyond "People die; war is bad; so it goes." I think he might be right about his conclusion, but I don't agree that it comes from shallowness. Rather, I would argue that Vonnegut is expressing humility before the awesome and unspeakable events of war. So it goes, I believe, falls somewhere between a Zen koan and Wittgenstein's "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, My name is Alex and just wanted to let you know that I am in the process of writing a research paper on PTSD relating to SH5 and used your opinions in my paper. I'll be sure to site your blog in my works cited page, don't worry. haha.

Thanks for your input though. It was helpful!