My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Most people think the purpose of science fiction is to explore things that don't exist like laser guns and spaceships. In fact, the best science fiction is a way of exploring our modern world in ways that regular fiction can't. In that sense, "Slaughterhouse Five" is one of the best and most important science fiction novels ever written.
At first glance, "Slaughterhouse" is the story of Billy Pilgrim who becomes "unstuck" in time and travels to what seem to be random moments in his past, present and future. Most of the book is about his experiences during World War II as a soldier and POW. The novel touches on his early life, the horrific moments of war and loss, and his future where he seems to be older and wiser. However, many of the experiences Pilgrim goes through were the real moments that author Kurt Vonnegut went through in WWII. In that sense, the novel is really an unconventional memoir.
That's where the power of the novel really lies. By attributing the experiences of his life to Pilgrim, there's a distance that can be achieved which a real autobiography might not have. Reading about how he's forced to march for miles in mud, forced in train cars so cramped no one can sit down, and huddling in a bunker during the bombing of Dresden come to life with Vonnegut's brilliant but sparse writing.
"Slaughterhouse" also falls into the realm of satire when Pilgrim ends up being mated with a beautiful actress by aliens in a sort of zoo. No one believes him when he returns to Earth, as can be expected, but some of his war experiences aren't believed either so there's a nice parallel. The alien aspect isn't taken seriously though with descriptions of the aliens looking like plungers. The mix of the brutally real and ridiculously false is part of the novel's charm.
While his wartime experiences get a lot of attention, I thought the moments after the war have a powerful impact. When his girlfriend asks him to talk about the war and Pilgrim dismisses it as being uninteresting, we know all that he went through and why he refused to burden her with it. It's almost too much for a normal person to hear and understand. It made me sympathetic to veterans who suffer PTSD.
I love Vonnegut's writing. He doesn't go into long and detailed descriptions, but chooses a few words that speak volumes. For instance, "We saw waterfalls, too, streams jumping off cliffs into the valley of the Delaware" is the description for an entire scene and packs a lot of information.
This is one of my favorite novels and a powerful message against war in all its forms. So it goes.
View all my reviews
You only know half the story of Jekyll and Hyde. Prepare to see literature's greatest monsters in a whole new light with Hyde!