Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

May 7, 2010

slaughterhouse Plot summary (with spoilers): The protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five is Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become “unstuck in time”. As a result of this phenomenon, he constantly flits back and forth to different periods of his life. Now he’s a young soldier captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge and held in an old building called Slaughterhouse-Five; now he’s a middle-aged optometrist in Ilium, New York accepting a service award in front of the Chamber of Commerce. Occasionally, he’s a captive held in a zoo on a distant planet called Tralfamador, where his daily human activities hold great interest for the alien Tralfamadorians.

As Billy travels back and forth, his life is slowly revealed to readers, who must try to put things together in some kind of orderly fashion despite the fact that events aren’t presented chronologically. Along the way, we’re left to decide for ourselves if Billy is suffering from some kind of mental problem, which is of course what everyone who knows him thinks, or if he is perhaps indeed in touch with Tralfamadorians and is perfectly sane.

Liked:

  • I had heard so much high praise for Slaughterhouse-Five that while reading it, I tried desperately to grab onto something — anything — to like, but I came up empty. Seriously, this book just wasn’t for me. In fact, I often put it aside to do more banal things like look up treatments for eczema online or balance my checkbook. Yes, it was that boring!

Disliked:

  • I didn’t actively dislike too much about this novel. I wasn’t fond of the constant time-shifting, but I realize that was an essential part of the broader meaning of the novel, and wasn’t simply a storytelling device that Vonnegut trotted out to be “original”.
  • I never felt anything for Billy Pilgrim throughout the book. I neither liked him nor disliked him, which meant I didn’t care much what was happening to him at any point in his life or why. I think a protagonist should grab readers one way or the other, and should really engender strong feelings. But that didn’t happen for me here.
  • I realize there was a lot of symbolism in this book, and that there was a whole anti-war message and everything. With the help of a critical edition of the book, I think was able to catch most of Vonnegut’s major points. Nevertheless, that didn’t make me view the book as a work of genius or anything.

Rating:
I know I’m in the minority in saying that I didn’t like Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, but I’m not going to lie here on my own blog and pretend it meant something to me when it didn’t. Neither the plot nor the writing style nor the symbolism nor the “bigger picture” struck a chord with me. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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