Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

May 25, 2011 Comments Off on Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

Most of the quotes on the cover of this book mention how very funny it is, and I can’t imagine why. It’s not funny. Wry is a better word, but all that means is that it is light, motionless, and true. I loved it very much, although Vonnegut still makes me really mad.

I’ve been sick of hearing “so it goes” since before I even touched a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five. It was totally dead for me because that’s all anyone ever says about this book, and they quote it with a sad, wry smile which is a sort of wink, meaning that everyone within earshot knows that that’s a totally wise and meaningful thing to say. It was quite slow to redeem itself for me—at first I found it distracting—but by the end of it I grudgingly admitted that it was brilliant. Don’t make me say that again.

Part of my problem with Vonnegut is that I think he considers himself an Everyman writer. He seems to want you to think he’s just an ordinary guy who happens to pick up a pen once in a while; he tries to step around literature in a way that I think is pretty rich for an author. I truly believe that literature (meaning just books and not Literature) is whatever you want it to be—anything that is intended to be literature is literature—so it’s not only unnecessary to subvert it, but it actually doesn’t make sense when you try. It assumes a wrong idea about what literature is, and that’s what I object to in Vonnegut books. Of course, maybe I think this because I’ve talked to too many rabid Vonnegut fans who tell me rapturously how weird his writing is, how unconventional and awesome it is. They obviously think it’s subversive. But in the end, it’s not all that strange. You can structure a story however you want, write however you want. It’s very well done, but it’s not something to make you gasp and murmur to your neighbor, “Don’t you wish you dared to write like that!” It makes me exceedingly peevish, but I’m not sure whether it’s the fault of the author or of his fans.

That said, this book was awesome, but there’s not a lot to say about it. I liked the style; he kind of brings back Homeric epithets, like Dawn, fresh and rosy-fingered, but in a way that really emphasizes the blending together—or simultaneous viewing—of different moments and memories. Of course, being me, I really loved his insistence on a different perception of time, and of death. As usual, he uses something ridiculous to make really wise points, which might be part of what moves his fans to adoringly call him weird and hilarious and unconventional (and is that what he’s after?), but that kind of thing doesn’t faze me—Neal Stephenson has already taught me to accept weird shit in books—it just seems clever. I really like the organization of the story, bopping back and forth between all times, and somehow it works, unlike Toni Morrison’s flashbacks in Beloved.

The reason there is nothing much to say about this book—although if you were in an English class and had to write a paper on it it would be a gold mine of clever things to say and connections to make—is the same reason Vonnegut says there’s nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. After something so complete, one way or another, you find yourself sitting back, satisfied, with no questions and no comments. I think that was part of the point. Oh. Well, that’s that, you think after the last page. Poo-tee-weet?

EXCERPT:

[This book] is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

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