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353 of 398 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it again, July 5, 2004
This review is from: Slaughterhouse-five (Hardcover)
I know this novel fairly well having read it several times (once aloud to my students). It is about all time being always present if only we knew, or could realize it, or had a sense about time in the same way we have senses for light and sound.

It is also about the Allied fire bombings of Dresden which killed something like 25,000 people. (And so it goes.) Kurt Vonnegut begins as though writing a memoir and advises us that "All of this happened, more or less..." Of course it did not, and yet, as with all real fiction, it is psychologically true. His protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, an unlikely hero, somewhat in the manner of unlikely heroes to come like Forest Gump and the hero of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There, transcends time and space as he bumbles along. This is a comedie noire--a "black comedy"--not to be confused with "film noir," a cinematic genre in which the bad guys may win or at least they are made sympathetic. In comedie noire the events are horrific but the style is light-hearted. What the genres have in common is a non-heroic protagonist.

This is also a totally original work written in a most relaxing style that fuses the elements of science fiction with realism. It is easy to read (which is one of the reasons it can be found on the high school curriculum in our public schools). It is sharply satirical, lampooning not only our moral superiority, our egocentricity, but our limited understanding of time and space. And of course it is an anti-war novel in the tradition of All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun.

Vonnegut's view of time in this novel is like the stratification of an upcropping of rock: time past and time present are there for us to see, but also there is time future. Billy Pilgrim learns from the Tralfamadorians (who kidnapped him in 1967) that we are actually timeless beings who experience what we call the past, present and future again and again. And so Billy goes back to the war and forward to his marriage, and to Tralfamadore again and again. He learns that the Tralfamadorians see the stars not as bright spots of light but as "rarefied, luminous spaghetti" and human beings as "great millepedes with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other." So time is not a river, nor is it a snake with its tail in its mouth. It is omnipresent, yet some things occur before and some after, but always they occur again.

And so it goes.

What I admire most about this most admirable novel is how easily and naturally Vonnegut controls the narrative and how effortlessly seems its construction. It is almost as if Vonnegut sat down one day and let his thoughts wander, and when he was through, here is this novel.

In a sense, Vonnegut invented a new novelistic genre, combining fantasy with realism, touched by fictionalized memoir, penned in a comedic mode as horror is overtaken by a kind of fatalistic yet humorous view of life. Note here the appearance of Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut's alter-ego, the science fiction writer who is said to have invented Tralfamadore.

Bottom line: read this without preconceptions and read it without regard to the usual constraints. Just let it flow and accept it for what it is, a juxtaposition of several genres, a tale of fiction, that--as fiction should--transcends time and space.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 27, 2007 12:53:25 PM PST
Miah says:
Which of his other books would you reccomend?

Posted on Dec 28, 2007 4:38:13 PM PST
Magellan says:
Dennis,

Another great review which I enjoyed reading, and on one of my favorite authors.

Your comment, "..penned in a comedic mode as horror is overtaken by a kind of fatalistic yet humorous view of life," also reminds me of Joseph Heller's Catch 22.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2007 9:21:06 AM PST
Hi, Miah:

I would recommend his last book, A Man Without a Country (2005) written a couple of years before he died. It is a nonfiction, funny and cynical. See my review.

Dennis

Posted on Apr 19, 2009 10:39:04 PM PDT
Hi. Your statement comparing the deaths at Dresden to those at Hiroshima is factually inaccurate. Most sources are settled on a figure of ~25,000 dead from the Dresden bombings (which, interestingly, is close to the original German estimate). On the other hand, there were almost 75,000 instantaneous deaths from the Hiroshima bombing, along with several tens of thousands more deaths occuring in the aftermath of the bombing due to a variety of bomb related maldies. As an educator, you should be aware of such facts before making statements like the one you make above.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 9, 2013 10:26:24 AM PST
JJ Frick says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 15, 2013 3:29:14 PM PST
Thanks, Marcus for the correction. I deleted the erroneous remark. Dennis

Posted on May 2, 2013 4:24:02 AM PDT
libbylab says:
Thank you Mr. Littrell for your insightful review. Without it, I would have skipped this classic book which I have never read, although the title and author are both familiar to me.
Again,
Thank you.
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Dennis Littrell
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