Monday, July 2, 2007


This is a book I read for my book group, so I am only going to be concentrating on a single aspect of it.

Or otherwise trying to keep this a relatively short review, so that I don't spoil the conversation with my book group.

Yeah, I didn't like the book. Really. I tried hard. You know, Vonnegut is a modern master and all that, so he deserved the effort. But it didn't work. Oddly enough, I liked the movie a good bit.

Concentrating on the style, I found it to be both comforting and annoying. Vonnegut's prose is conversational, much like greeting an old friend and letting him tell you a story. But that old friend is a doddering old man, whose attempts at jokes are either lame or just go right past me. Generally, I am a fan of the short, direct style of writing. I love Hemingway. But for some reason, when Vonnegut does it, it stirs nothing within me.

However, I will admit the writing style does a nice job of imitating the focus of the story, Billy Pilgrim. Billy is a simple man, not given to very deep thought and just smart enough to get by in social situations. I'd like to think he is something of a good man also, but we only know about the events of his life, all of which he is an actor in but without ever showing any free will. He rides the current of the situation and does nothing to change the events that surround him. Often he is a disinterested observer of the people around him who do have personalities, but he barely interacts with them.

Vonnegut's minimalist style makes the reader think he knows Billy, but it's also clear that Vonnegut has firm control of the narration, so it isn't Billy about whom we learn very much, it is the Vonnegut-as-narrator personality. That narrator does have an opinion and he gives it often, but Billy rarely if ever does. So the story moves from incident to incident, using the "unstuck in time" motif to barely keep the story unified.

So, while it's not a chore to read, Slaughterhouse-Five didn't have for me any emotional impact or moments of drama. The reader too is adrift in the unsteady imagination/memory of Billy Pilgrim. And to what end? I honestly don't know.

1 comment:

  1. I have an ecopy of the text, which allows me to do things such as search for all instances of the phrase "So it goes".

    108 instances is a tad bit sledgehammery, in this man's humble opinion.