In 1998 when I was 16 years old a movie came out called Disturbing Behavior (I went with my sister to see it because it had Katie Holmes). In the movie the janitor/maintenance man played by William Sadler, the guy who says, “Rats from the bay,” is found reading a book called Slaughterhouse-Five. Apparently this made the man not only intelligent, but well read. I always assumed this was the case and from that point on always used Slaughterhouse-Five as a reference when talking to people and I wanted to sound like a literary snob. It was a neat little trick in high school, and something I repeated in college (although, to be fair, in college I would throw in a little Derrida and Foucault). The thing was, I’d never actually read Slaughterhouse-Five. After reading it…I don’t think I’ll toss it into conversation anymore. Not that it's bad, I just didn't think it was really that great.
Slaughterhouse-Five follows Billy Pilgrim as he…literally…jumps around in time. It’s an interesting way to tell the story. Rather than go from Point A to Point B Vonnegut chose to go from Point A to Point D to Point F to Point C…etc. So we get his life without every really leaving a single moment in time. In this is his service in WWII (including the shelling of Dresden), his marriage, his career, his apparent slip into insanity, and his time with the people of Tralfamador (including getting to impregnate a movie star…the Tralfamadorians are aliens by the way).
Overall the intent of the novel, or at least what many things on the web says, is to show the horrors of war. I didn’t get that. At all. Sure there were some horrible parts in it, but I didn’t really feel they were the focus of the story. In my opinion the focus of the story is life. That’s it. Most importantly to not take your life for granted and don’t live in the past. “That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.” Sound advice.
Most importantly though I found the book to be fucking hilarious. Really. With the exception of the damn phrase “So it goes,” I was laughing at several spots. “Billy didn’t want to marry ugly Valencia. She was one of the symptoms of his disease. He knew he was going crazy when he heard himself proposing marriage to her…” The thing is, Valencia adored him. She knew no one wanted her, the fact that Billy married her anyway only made her love him more…its evident in the way she dies (which I won't tell you). “…said Maggie White. She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away. She hadn’t even had one baby yet. She used birth control.” hahaha. Who writes like that? Vonnegut’s prose is so simple, so delightfully awkward, that you can’t help but read it. I used to be told that I write simple (which I do for a reason), but Vonnegut definitely has me beat.
This doesn’t really have anything to do with the book itself but one of the things the book says, “The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the world’s total population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000.” It’s a little off. Here it is 2010 and we still haven’t hit that figure.
Finally, to close, I’m going to give you a quote that I loved, and the first one that I highlighted in my reading. “The Tralfamadorians tried to give Billy clues that would help him imagine sex in the invisible dimension. They told him that there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals. There could be babies without female homosexuals. There couldn’t be babies without women over sixty-five years old. There could be babies without men over sixty-five. There couldn’t be babies without other babies who had lived an hour or less after birth. And so on. It was gibberish to Billy.”