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    Slaughterhouse-Five

    Title: Slaughterhouse-Five (215 pages); Author: Kurt Vonnegut; Published: 1969

    After promising myself that I would for the last several years, I recently picked up a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed satire, Slaughterhouse-Five, and what do you know? I liked it enough to bring it back here, dear readers, to you. I will be the first to say that, in general, I am hardly a fan of existential works. But something about Slaughterhouse-Five is different. I didn’t want to throw it across the room even once, as I was reading it. In fact, I was barely able to put it down when nature called. It’s a one-night book for any serious reader, for sure.

    At times, I wanted to call this science fiction, but that didn’t seem right. At times, I wanted to call it a war novel, but that didn’t fit the bill either. Slaughterhouse-Five is really about the human condition, but unlike so many other novels that can be described in this way, it is only about the human condition. Everything Vonnegut gives us is metaphorical, fantastic, or whimsical. There is no storyline here, which is illustrated so nicely by Billy Pilgrim’s ‘time-traveling.’ This book was like some weird amalgam of Elie Wiesel’s Night, Albert Camus’s The Stranger, and my old favorite, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (I swear I’ll shut up about that book eventually). If you enjoyed any of those titles, this is probably worth checking out.

    The main character, Billy Pilgrim, claims that he has been taken captive by aliens called Tralfamadorians, taken to their home world (you guessed it, Tralfamadore), and made into a spectacle at a zoo of theirs. These aliens ‘communicate telepathically,’ see in ‘four dimensions’ (time being the fourth), and have eyes in the palms of their hands (which come out of the top of their heads). Due to their ability to see in the fourth dimension, they can choose the point of a man’s life that they wish to focus on. It is in this way that Billy is able to die and return later to an earlier, happier time in his life. All of this is great, but what does it mean? Rest assured, I was very confused for a good portion of the time I spent reading this.

    Since the Tralfamadorians can see the future, free will is effectively eliminated. And although we as ‘Earthlings’ cannot, this does not mean we do indeed possess free will. The point that Vonnegut is making is that we simply don’t know that we lack it, because we can’t see that we do. The Tralfamadorians say, ‘Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.’ Still with me? Good.

    The other striking thing about Slaughterhouse-Five is the sheer amount of times Vonnegut employs the phrase ‘So it goes.’ It seems, in fact, that every time bad news is related, it is followed by the phrase. It is applied to history and characters’ pasts: ‘Rosewaster, for instance, had shot a fourteen-year-old fireman, mistaking him for a German soldier. So it goes. And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire-bombing of Dresden. So it goes.’ And it is applied to the present: ‘The news of the day, meanwhile, was being written in a ribbon of lights on a building to Billy’s back. A window reflected the news. It was about power and sports and anger and death. So it goes.’ It is applied constantly.

    Slaughterhouse-Five is overwhelming. In fact, I would recommend reading through it at least twice. There is quite a lot to digest here; its flavor and texture are wonderful. This is easily the best satire I have read in a while. I hope you enjoy it equally!

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