Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

When I first heard about this book, it was because a few friends of mine were reading it for school, and I asked them what they were reading. I mean, the title is Slaughterhouse Five. It sounded interesting. When I asked them what it was about, they told me: it’s about some dude named Billy who goes to war, survives a bombing, and gets abducted by aliens.

I’m telling you now: after finishing this book, I can gladly tell you that this book is about some dude named Billy who goes to war, survives a bombing, and gets abducted by aliens. Though there’s a little more to it than that.

This book is actually an antiwar novel based off of Kurt Vonnegut’s life. The first line of the novel is: “All this happened, more or less.” Which is an actual truth. Vonnegut really was a POW, and he really did survive the bombing of Dresden by hiding out in a meat locker. So it’s an antiwar novel based off his experience during the bombing, and it’s also a book about time travel and aliens.

One thing I really liked about this book was the narrative style Vonnegut uses. One of the main things that the book talks about (besides the horrors of war, which I’ll get to in a minute) is how death is a natural cycle that we all go through, and how we shouldn’t necessarily mourn death, because at some point in time, that person is still alive. The idea comes from the aliens who abduct Billy, called the Tralfamadorians, who believe that time is not linear, like we Earthlings believe. So it would be more accurate to say that a person has died, will die, and will always die, the same way you might say someone has lived, will live, and will always live. The reason I mention this is because Vonnegut’s style of writing is, in and of itself, a repetition of this idea. He’s so matter of fact with everything that happens, and with his repeated phrases of “So it goes,” that it’s almost like he’s simply recording history–which, in a sense, he is, even when someone dies. Even when scenes get brutal and horrible, he still maintains this matter of fact attitude to the whole thing, which in turn just made it so much more real than if he had bled emotion into the words.

The other thing I really liked was how well the novel worked as an antiwar novel. Vonnegut’s scenes are horrific, just absolutely harrowing, and work so well in showing the horrors of war. I cannot even begin to explain how gross some of them were (and yet he kept the same tone, the same matter of fact tone, almost like he was saying, “Yeah, this is war.”), and gross might even be too nice of a word here.

(Vonnegut also has the darkest sense of humor. Despite all the awful moments and the gore, I found myself laughing at the jokes thrown in here and there.)

This book actually reminded me a lot of Tim O’brien’s The Things They Carried, which is also an amazing antiwar novel. Especially the beginning, which reminded me of O’brien talking about how to tell a good war story, and obviously the horrors of war were equally horrifying between books.

I definitely recommend reading this. It’s amazing, wonderfully written, and has amazing characters, though I didn’t really talk about them much, mostly because they didn’t stand out to me as much as other things. If you like antiwar novels, or read The Things They Carried and are looking for another book that is similar to it and just as good, you should most definitely read this.

I’d say this book should not be read by anyone overly immature or under the age of 13. Just to be on the safe side. It is very horrific (as I’ve said), and has depictions of sex and descriptions of violence (not just the action within the book, but also in the dialogue), as well as discussions of topics that you may not understand when you’re younger. The aliens part, though. I’m pretty sure that that part is okay.

I also have to warn you: this book skips around a lot, since “Billy has become unstuck in time,” and therefore may be a little hard to read. I had very little trouble with this, but some other people who I’ve talked to has had issues following along. If you do have issues following along, my advice would be to just slow down a little more, take the time to figure out where Billy is at that moment. Eventually you’ll get the hang of it, just stick it out through the confusion. It is, after all, an amazing book.