Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Slaughterhouse-Five was brilliant.  It was perfect.  Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death was engaging, intriguing and could easily be read in one sitting.  I wish I could have read it in one sitting; it was so difficult when I had to put it down.  When the mood struck me to finally read Kurt Vonnegut Jr., I had a choice between Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, both of which I own.  I decided to let the internet help me.  Slaughterhouse-Five is touted as Vonnegut's best novel.  If it's his best and I start with his best, then will all his other novels leave me unsatisfied?  However, if it's his best and I don't like it, then I wouldn't likely bother with any of his other books.  So, I cracked open my lovely edition of Slaughterhouse-Five.

One of the reasons I felt eager to read Vonnegut was because of the Classics Club.  I recently posted about Alias Grace for the Club.  While on the site, I noticed that their July event/era was Postmodernism.  Postmodernism is a curious thing.  There is no date ending postmodernism, because we may still be in it, though some say it ended in the 1980s.  As the name suggests, it comes after modernism (some modernist writers: Ernest Hemmingway, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, James Joyce).  Postmodernism includes writers like Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and Haruki Murikami.  Is everything they write postmodern?  I don't know.  I've always felt like postmodernism is something difficult to pin down.  There's definitely an overlap between modernism and postmodernism, postmodernism and postpostmodernism
I wasn't planning on giving a lesson on postmodernism, but I do think Slaughterhouse-Five exemplified that epoch.  I wish we had read this book way back in high school when I was learning about different eras in literature.  I can't remember the example of postmodernism we read (shows how much it made an impact on me); I know that my teacher explained it as something that uses the writers' real life experiences and fictionalizes them.  There's often time-jumping and flashes of scenes.  I understand what she was trying to tell us now, more than I ever have before.  Billy Pilgram is the main character, but he's not the narrator.  The narrator is someone who knew Pilgram and was around him when a lot of these events occurred. The narrator and his friend, O'Hare are researching the Bombing of Dresden, they were both there, for the narrator's book.  I tried to explain all this to my Hubby, as I was telling him how this book might be a new favourite and I don't know if I did a good job.  Vonnegut did an amazing job of making the time-jumping aspect of the story part of the plot.  It is just something that happens to Pilgram.  Everything about the novel seemed to evolve and flow naturally.
There is also often an aspect of metafiction to postmodernism, as there is in Slaughterhouse-Five.  Metafiction is another literary (and can be used in other media) device that can be difficult to understand.  I've know people to run away from the word metafiction, but in Vonnegut's novel, it is used brilliantly.  The narrator openly discusses the book he's writing, includes conversation with his friend O'Hare.  O'Hare's wife tells the narrator that a book on World War II should be called The Children's Crusade, the alternate title for Slaughterhouse-Five.  "Slaughterhouse-Five" doesn't show up until much later in the book.  Another aspect of metafiction is the author putting themselves in their story.  At first, it appears that the narrator is Vonnegut, but Vonnegut also speaks through the character of Kilgore Trout, a science-fiction writer, who is also partly based on one of Vonnegut's friends.  Is Vonnegut then in his own story twice?  Maybe they represent two different sides of Vonnegut's personality or this thoughts on the book.
Phew! I did not mean for this to be an essay... Slaughterhouse-Five was just such a fascinating novel.  I loved it.  I could re-read it right now.  I'm sure there's loads I missed.  Pilgram and the narrator are both intriguing.  I'm glad that the Classics Club put it into my head that I should read Slaughterhouse-Five now.  I read Generation X recently, maybe I should tackle some more postmodern novels?  I definitely want to read more Vonnegut.  It's a good thing I already have Cat's Cradle.  I might need some recovery time for my brain though.


  1. I can't say I loved Slaughterhouse Five as much as you, but it is definitely fascinating. I felt sad all the way through...which I surmise was due to a sense of Vonnegut's sadness coming though in his writing.
    My review:

    1. Definitely not a happy story, but I found it really resonated with me and made me want to read more by Vonnegut.