If, like me, you want to avoid spoilers in a review, Slaughterhouse Five is a difficult book to explain properly. Here’s what the publisher thinks you should know:
Slaughterhouse Five is one of the world’s great anti-war books. An American classic. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
It sounds epic. We follow Billy Pilgrim, a hapless draftee at the end of World War II, as he gets “unstuck in time.” He lives his life out-of-order, shifting between life as a soldier, father, POW, and alien abductee. At first glance, it seems Slaughterhouse Five should be a sweeping Sci-fi/ historical fiction drama chronicling the social repercussions of a massive, devastating war; but it isn’t. That’s not the point.
With his matter-of-fact style and un-embellished language Vonnegut takes a story that plays out on a gigantic scale and tells it in the least epic way possible, while not doing the narrative any disservice. Billy doesn’t question his ability to move through time. The narrator, though present as a character, simply explains what happens to Billy without judgment. In brief moments where Vonnegut goes into another character’s point of view, he shows Billy from the outside, but lets us choose whether he’s right or wrong. Billy Pilgrim wanders through his jumbled life, trying to be more than a prisoner, but somehow finds himself back in a cell, over and over again—because he’s comfortable there.
And that’s the point…I think.