Friday, April 8, 2011

Slaughterhouse-Five Review by Becky

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Rating: ★★★

I'm not really sure what to think about this one, it was interesting, in that I was curious where all the little snippets and fragments would be going, and how they would all come together, but I can't really say that they did, except in the vastly interpretable possibilities.

There weren't really any characters that I could identify with. The main character just listlessly wanders through life, being shepherded along by whatever circumstances come, accepting everything, not even caring enough about his own life to try to save it. The narrator/author finds his way into the story a few times, but we learn nothing about him, really, and he adds next to nothing to the story, unless it's supposed to add a mild sense of realism. It didn't, for me, it only confused me, as I wasn't sure how a separate person would know all about the main character's thoughts and dreams and the like, when it seemed that they never actually connected in any way in the story.

The secondary characters were all rotten in their own ways. Aside from making me frown a lot as I read, they left no lasting impressions on me at all. They could have been any rotten jerk person, or any no-personality, and I wouldn't really know the difference. I just finished, and I can't remember half of their names. Even the war, which was supposed to be awful and raw and horrid felt like it was just... academically described. I didn't FEEL anything as I read this, and for being such a must-read book, I'd expected to.

Which brings me to my next point. This book is, at least on the surface, about the bombing of Dresden. I don't know anything about that, and still don't. OK, I take that back. I now know it was bombed. But that's it. There was no light shed on the reasons for the bombing, and next to nothing told about the aftermath of it either, except for two pages from the end of the book, in which Billy describes the death mines. That's it.

This book doesn't even know what it's about. I'm sure that people will argue with me about this, and say that I'm wrong and that the book is about this, or that, or the confluence of events caused by the catastrophe of the human condition with regards to the symptoms of life, or something that I apparently missed. That's cool. But I stand by my statement. For a book that claims to be about the Dresden bombing, there's almost nothing about that. For a book that's called "Slaughterhouse-five", there are very few mentions of the slaughterhouse. Rather, most of the book is concerned with Billy and Billy's life and his unstuckness in time, but it's incredibly impersonal, almost to the point of being unfeeling, so I wouldn't say it's about life either. This is a book about nothing. Or maybe more apt - this book is about paradoxes - nothing and everything at the same time.

There's nothing to glorify war here, no heroes marching off bravely into battle, no glorious deaths, etc. But there's nothing that makes it awful either. True, there is hunger and a boot shortage and illness and death, but there was really no feeling of suffering or loss or anger about it. This book just seems to say that war, as well as everything else, is pointless, unavoidable and fated, so why bother trying to change anything - just ignore it and look at this shiny penny I found! Ooooh. O_O

I disagree with that, obviously. I disagree with the concept of life being a series of moments that are always planned, always unchangeable, always destined. I disagree with the idea that, even if we should somehow be given a glimpse of the future, that we should just blithely accept that future and come whatever may. If I see my future, and I don't like it, sorry, I'm changing it. My path isn't written in stone.

I did think that the concept of time travel was interesting here. Honestly, the time travel alone, even though I don't agree with what it implies, is why I gave this 3 stars instead of 2.

I like the idea that we can't really ever die, because we have always existed, and will always exist, in some point in time. I wouldn't want to continually hop around to the points of my existence like Billy does, exactly, but I do like the concept of my being timeless. Not that it will do me any good, but it's a nice thought, in a way.

Even the time jumps in the book are interesting, as Billy doesn't know where he will end up or when. His life seems to carry on without him, while his consciousness is in one time or another, so it's like his mind just falls into his body at a given point in time. This is a weird thought for me, because it implies that we really have no life at all, and that our bodies are merely doing exactly what they are meant to always do at that moment. However, I don't know if that's true either, because it's possible that we do control our destiny, or maybe time is just a trickster manipulating us into thinking so.

At one point, Billy, who is not attracted to his new wife (who is overweight and not exactly a looker, apparently) tells her that he likes her as she is after seeing a future for himself that shows that his marriage is "bearable". Now, was his marriage bearable because he told Valencia (the wife) that he liked her as she is, thus making her content with him and happy and not a shrieking harpy? Or was it going to be bearable whether he said anything or not? Or would it have been bearable only in his mind because he saw that it would be and therefore accepted that as gospel and would interpret anything as being "bearable"? Essentially, did he create the future that he saw by seeing the future and accepting it and acting accordingly? If so, is that not then shaping our future?

I wonder how this book would have played out had the main character had some initiative to take matters into his own hands. I wonder if this book is a missive to just do what you do and have no regrets because you're always supposed to do that because that's what you're made to do. That's kind of hopeless and sad, I think. What's the point of being human if we're not able to be alive and in control of ourselves?

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