100/365/8: Slaughterhouse Five

The eighth book in my resolution quest is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

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A couple of things:

First, I really love Vonnegut’s writing style. His is a delicious dark humor. This is a book about war, specifically World War II. Or rather, this is sort of a book about war. It’s anti-war, awkwardly humorous, and very, very honest. There are deplorable things in this book, yet I laughed out loud numerous times.

Second, it took me about 30 pages to really commit. I earnestly considered giving up on it in those beginning chapters because Vonnegut does a couple of things that make me crazy. He repeats lines – more than twice. His repetition is a theme throughout. He also doesn’t follow a chronological order in the story, and I happen to have just a touch of Type A to my control freak personality. As an avid organizer, I was a little stressed at the revelation that this story would be so disjointed. In many ways, it was like following a stream of consciousness. And let’s be real, my own crazy ass thinking is distraction enough without Vonnegut’s input.

Billy is the protagonist I followed to a bright optometrist office, a gory battlefield, a POW camp, the alien planet of Tralfamadore. Then a gory battlefield, a railroad car, a bright optometrist office, Tralfamadore. Then a POW camp, an old folks home, a swanky hotel room, slaughterhouse #5, Tralfamadore, and back again.

The richness of this book is impossible to sum up in the terse allowances of a blog entry. It’s clarity bites and leaves a political aftertaste. It mocks humanity. It justifies violence. It admonishes violence. Often in the same paragraph. It recounts horror stories and then shrugs with indifference. And it does all this through the eyes of an alien-abducted optometrist in shiny Cinderella shoes. Much like war – the bloody battle for peace – it’s a great contradiction.

There were several moments of clarity I thought worth mentioning:

The alien race puzzling over the Earthlings’ idea of free will.

The money tree grown from the fertilizer of murdered men.

The robot pariah dropping hot jellied gasoline on unsuspecting humans, yet only rejected from society for his unforgivable halitosis.

America; the wealthiest nation of poor people on Earth.

Of all Vonnegut’s tempered lessons (of which there were many), I found one to be most poignant in light of our country’s current rift.

“Billy was having an adventure very common among people without power in time of war: He was trying to prove to a willfully deaf and blind enemy that he was interesting to hear and see.”

So it goes.

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