The Book Report

‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ — a confusing classic

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Every once in a while, I like to give classic novels a try. Based on recommendations from friends, teachers and family members, I decided to pick up “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut.

I’m not sure what I had been expecting from this book, but what I got was something interesting, confusing, comical and, in my opinion, overrated.

The novel follows Billy Pilgrim’s journey through life in a chaotic manner. As Billy has become “unstuck in time,” there’s probably no other way to tell the story. Scenes jump from one moment in his life to others years apart, but as Billy believes, time is not linear.

Every moment of a person’s life is happening simultaneously and can be accessed at any given time. Using this thought process, he believes life can therefore never really end. The book, on the other hand, can and does — thankfully.

Readers are taken along for the ride as Billy studies optometry, gets drafted into the army, is taken as a prisoner of war and abducted by aliens. On the planet Tralfamadore, he becomes part of a zoo exhibit showcasing humans.

Billy is a relatively simple man with nothing remarkable about him other than the fact that he is often randomly taken from one moment in his life and dropped into another. In his old age, he tries to explain this process to his daughter, but she believes him to be senile and disregards anything he says.

According to Sparknotes, Kurt Vonnegut, the novel’s famed author, wrote “Slaughterhouse-Five” as a response to his own war experiences. Until its creation, he couldn’t come up with anything pleasing for himself or his publishers. He actually addresses these personal struggles in chapters one and ten of the book, but everything in between is a creative twist on his time spent fighting in World War II.

Amazon gives “Slaughterhouse-Five” 4.2 stars, and Goodreads follows close behind with 4.1. Personally, I’d give this book a solid 3 stars. It was wild and amusing, but ultimately a confusing whirlwind of the narrator’s experiences.

I found the book hard to keep up with; just as things were picking up in one part of Billy’s life he’d be deposited in a completely new scene, and I’d have to get back into what was happening. This occurred over and over, and in the end, I couldn’t help but think, “What was the point of that?”

While I don’t have all the time in the world to ponder its purpose, luckily for Billy, his death doesn’t mean the end of life, so he has the rest of eternity to figure out the meanings of life, time, war and his alien abduction.

Despite my uncertainty about my own feelings toward “Slaughterhouse-Five,” the book gave me interesting concepts to think about: Is time linear or do we simply imagine it that way? Do aliens exist somewhere in the universe? While certainly intriguing, these seem more like ideas for our conspiracy columnist to tackle. In the meantime, I’ll just keep reading.