Sunday, June 15, 2008

Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut

It's interesting reading books way late--as in long after the age when most people read them (in this case, lots of people seem to read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school) and also long after many other writers have written their own novels under the influence of this one (certainly Tom Robbins but even Tim O'Brien seems to have been affected). The great thing about Vonnegut though is that despite my having reached the age of almost-thirty-seven and of being aware of the novel and hearing people mention it for decades, I could never have predicted what was inside. I knew it was about prisoners of war and I knew it was by the author of the hilarious Cat's Cradle but I could never put those two things together and come up with a prediction of what would lie there in. And yet now that I have read it, it seems perfectly Vonnegutian. A serious but funny novel that uses the storytelling practices and philosophical beliefs of a group of aliens to perfectly depict post-traumatic stress in a soldier. If I had read this in high school (we read Cat's Cradle instead) I know there would have been much discussion of the Christ symbol of Billy Pilgrim and whether or not the aliens were real, but sometimes, I admit, it's nice just to feel a book rather than interpret it. And I definitely felt this book.

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