Saturday, March 1, 2014

Slaughterhouse-Five: Cramming Too Much Into One Novel

Once again, another book off the list.  This one was one I bought a while ago with every intention of reading, I just never got around to it.  I’ve never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before, but I did know a girl in high school who was obsessed with him, so I was going into it pretty excited.  I’ve heard this book be described as an anti-war novel, and, to be honest, I just didn’t see it.  That is, of course, unless the whole point is “people who come back from war are so damaged that they imagine they are abducted by aliens and can fall through time.”  If that’s what Vonnegut is trying to get at, then he hit the nail on the head.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it follows Billy Pilgrim, a soldier during World War II.  After the war, Billy is not only abducted by aliens and taken repeatedly to the planet Tralfamadore, but he also has the ability to fall through time (because being abducted by aliens isn’t weird enough).  The storyline bounces between Billy in the present and Billy reliving his past, where you gain a better sense of who he is as a person.  Part of the past Billy explores is his experience in Europe during World War II and the other half is Billy’s horrific marriage (he treats his wife horribly in my opinion) and his experiences on Tralfamadore. 

Now, the book isn’t very long.  My copy is only 215 pages.  With such a complicated storyline, that doesn’t give Vonnegut too much time to properly elaborate on either storyline, which is exactly the problem I discovered.  Neither storyline ended properly.  You had no idea what really happened to Billy on Tralfamadore, and his story of his experience during World War II was only partially explained (although much more than the Tralfamadore story).  In my opinion, this novel had the potential to be absolutely wonderful, had it just been either the World War II plot or the Tralfamadore plot, but both was too much in just 215 pages.

I also saw absolutely no point to Billy’s ability to travel through time.  That is, unless it’s merely symbolic of how fractured and broken his mind is.  I will admit, he seems to fall through time when he becomes stressed, and he always winds up in places related to what was just going on in the present.  It really looks like he has some sort of mental health problems, and he really isn’t falling through time but really retreating into the safety of his mind when life is too much to handle.

I’m not going to spend a lot more time on this book.  I didn’t really like it.  I’m not going to write off Kurt Vonnegut as a whole, though, I have a few other books by him that sound interesting, so I’m going to give them a shot at some point.

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