Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” is one of the weirdest books I have ever read. It involves war, aliens and time travel, and all these strange plot points combine to make it one of the best contemporary works of literature. I am not usually a fan of science fiction, but Vonnegut’s breathtaking story easily makes it one of my top five literary favorites.
The most interesting aspect of this novel is the narrative; it is not chronological or linear. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has the ability to time travel to different periods of his life. Because of this, the reader is temporally tossed around. The reader follows Billy from his youth at school to his time serving in World War II to his abduction by aliens. While all of these plot twists seem unbelievably disconnected, Vonnegut weaves an intricate web that connects all of these milestones in Billy’s life.
One of the most prominent settings in Billy’s life is Dresden, Germany during World War II. While Vonnegut does use common science fiction tropes – particularly aliens and time travel – he unexpectedly explores the very human psychological effects of war and violence. Billy experiences bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially in one scene involving a barbershop quartet. These surprising moments root Vonnegut’s work in the real world; Billy, though he has special abilities, is still human.
Though the story itself is a masterpiece, my favorite moments in the novel are when Vonnegut addresses the reader. Though we follow Billy Pilgrim throughout his life, the story is in third person narration. Vonnegut taps into the reader’s emotions and humanity when talking about life in general, not always specifically focusing on Billy. My favorite passage in the book occurs when Vonnegut sympathizes with the biblical character Lot and his wife. He also addresses death in the book as merely a fact of life. After a death is mentioned, Vonnegut concludes with the phrase “so it goes.” Not too many readers would expect this much emotional depth from a sci-fi novel. Vonnegut is a trailblazer in every sense of the word; all you need to do is read “Slaughterhouse-Five” to prove it.