Currently Reading: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Even after having a few weeks to mull over Slaughterhouse Five, I’m still not sure what my opinion of the book is.
Again, this could be in part because back to back Vonnegut books is a lot to take if you’re not big on books with little plot or character development, which I'm not. And I think I was extra frustrated with this aspect of Vonnegut’s writing because this seemed like such a rich area of history for a compelling story. I’d never heard of the bombing of Dresden before despite having studied World War II rather extensively and I was pretty excited to read an inside perspective on the event. Instead, I got jostled and thrown around different eras at random - with an alien kidnapping and zoo thrown in for good measure - like someone riding a particularly bumpy, upsetting roller coaster. Much like at the end of such a roller coaster, I’m not sure how I feel at the end of this novel. Did I actually enjoy that? Or am I just proud that I survived it?
I believe I found Slaughterhouse Five unsatisfying because I hate finishing a book and thinking, “What?!” and that’s exactly what I did. As a point of pride, I like when I understand whatever the author was hoping to convey in his novel by the time I finish it. After all, I’m an English major. I should have the skills to do just that. So when I turn the last page of a novel and find myself wondering what the hell the author was trying to do, it upsets me on two levels. One: I have no closure and two: my English major pride has been hurt. Damn you, Vonnegut.
Because I don’t get it. Seriously, I really don’t.
Well… Strike that. I somewhat get it. I understand the message he’s trying to convey. Partly because it’s essentially the same one presented in The Sirens of Titan and partly because he practically beats you over the head with it in the dozens of repetitions of the phrase, “So it goes.” Again, the message is that it’s pointless to try to control and understand the world around you so instead of getting upset, you should simply take things as they come.
But I want to vent about what I didn’t understand. The basic foundation for the plot. Why did Vonnegut introduce the idea of time travel and aliens into this story? Was it really necessary to introduce this concept of everything in life being in a state of past, present, and future at one time (Hello chrono-synclastic infundibula concept from Sirens! Nice to see you again you confusing fictional, physics theory.)? Why on Earth did Vonnegut feel it was useful to have his character kidnapped by aliens and thrown into an alien zoo? How was that relevant at all?
What was even more confusing to me was the time traveling aspect of the novel. All I wanted to know the whole book was whether or not the time travel was legit. Was the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, actually traveling through time? Or was this simply a way for Vonnegut to highlight another part of his theme? After all, if everything is happening both in the past and the present, then you can simply focus on the better parts of your life to allow you to accept the bad parts since they are all happening at one time anyways… if that makes any sense. What better way to emphasize focusing on other parts of your life than to have the protagonist literally travel to those parts of life periodically? If Billy Pilgrim actually is traveling through time, not just looking back or forward, I have one burning question: how did he get the ability to travel through time???
I know that this shouldn’t be what’s bugging me weeks later, but come on! How does he not explain this? I’m just supposed to accept that this guy happens to have the ability to time travel and just coincidentally is chosen to be a specimen in an alien zoo?
Or is Billy Pilgrim just crazy and none of the alien stuff actually happened?
To me, this feels like when I finished The Sun Also Rises and was utterly confused about why the main character didn’t just sleep with the love of his life… until about a month later my English teacher just dropped in randomly that the main character was impotent. Light bulb switched on and suddenly everything clicked. I’d really like the missing piece of information for Slaughterhouse Five that will have the same effect. Anyone have it for me? Please?