Review of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

First read: Before the list came out (1983ish)
Reviewed on: 8/14/98
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I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

After I'd read Cat's Cradle, based on my friend Jill's endorsement, I wanted to read another Vonnegut book. I had several on my bookshelf, that I'd bought at Acres Of Books, a used bookstore. I looked at the covers, and picked Sirens of Titan because it had three naked women on the cover. It turns out that it was an ironic reason for reading it, because a plot point of that book was that the protagonist was induced into starting his life in a particular direction because he saw a picture of three naked women, who turned out to be statues. Ah well.

Sirens of Titan was an enjoyable book, though, and I started devouring all the Kurt Vonnegut I could get my hands on. Slaughterhouse Five was one of the books so consumed. I don't quite understand why it is the one that is considered to be "Classic." In many respects, it was typical K.V. fare. But there were two parts of it that really grabbed me emotionally, that could explain why it has tickled the fancy of the Literary Establishment.

The most amazing aspect of the book is, in my opinion, the general conflict. The protagonist, in order to be a true patriot, must have the world revile him as a traitor. I am reminded of the dilemma of Judas: The whole Christian grace-through-Christ thing hinged on Jesus being crucified, and that part needed Judas to betray him. So Judas was put into the position of being able to Save the world, but in order to do so he had to commit an act that would cause his name to be practically synonymous with evil and betrayal. (I'd like to claim credit for this idea, but I got it from Jesus Christ, Superstar) So our poor hero had to do the work of being a hero, without getting any of the rewards that heros get. And that was damned frustrating to read, let me tell you. But it was thought provoking at the same time.

The other thing about Slaughterhouse Five that was exceptional was the letter at the end. It was amazing what you go through in those last few pages. From thinking that the ending would be unhappy, to suddenly, beyond all expectation, finding out that the ending would be joyous, and then being disappointed. And it didn't come off contrived.

I used to be a very judgmental person. Kurt Vonnegut was one of the authors whose work made me less so. Slaughterhouse Five was particularly influential in that regard.

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P.S.  Two years after I wrote this review, two years and hundreds of hits after I wrote this review, my friend Pat. H, asked me, "Isn't this really a review of Mother Night?"  Shit, shit, shit. 






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