As it goes in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, I have read this book, I am reading this book, and will read this book, all simultaneously. Slaughterhouse-Five is a unique work where, much like the literature of the aliens that abduct main character Billy Pilgrim, gains impact and momentum by moments that precede it. The impact is bolstered by crude moments and outright humor. The work is special.
Slaughterhouse-Five, in its simplest sense is a war story but none of the elements are traditional. There are no true characters in the book because war demands that there are no characters, this is a stark distinction from a traditional war novel wherein the are inflated characters in attempts to make light of war. There are other books that showcase the darkness and destruction of war but Slaughterhouse-five isn’t exactly that either. It is a fleeting work about fleeting lives of people and the situations they find themselves in be it extraterrestrial or otherwise.
Vonnegut accomplishes seriousness with humor and crude scenarios what another writer would fail to replicate with a more “formal” tone. However, a budding writer would find the essence of Vonnegut’s style to be inimitable. Although it may seem Vonnegut is being crude and humors for the sake of being such, it is certain that even these moments were highly controlled. This style was simply something native to Vonnegut and any attempts to seem Vonnegut-esque will likely be childish.
Even the first sentence lets the reader know exactly what they’re in for.
“All this happened, more or less.”
There were, of course other quotes of interest:
“‘Is it an anti-war book?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I guess.’
‘You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?’
‘No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?’
‘I say, “Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?”’
What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that too. And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.”
“‘There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message — describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.'”
Slaughterhouse-Five is a lot of things. Each of the things that reflect its importance are to be seen at the same time as the things before it (or as much as we can conceive those things). It is when doing this that we see the depth of Vonnegut’s work.