“Everybody's heard of this book, and because of that - because it has this "mass appeal" quality to it - I assumed I was too discerning to read it. I assumed if everybody liked it, it'd be the literary equivalent of going to the mall. Well I was wrong. This is an absolutely wonderful little book, and I *definitely* recommend it.
Billy Pilgrim, the book's protagonist, is the most pathetic excuse for a character I can recall reading about. In chapter #2 he's described as "...a funny looking child who became a funny looking youth - tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola." Later, in the same chapter, when Billy is a bit older (and serving as a private in WWII), Kurt says, "Billy was preposterous - six feet three inches tall, with a chest and shoulders like a box of kitchen matches." And later, "...though Billy was only twenty-one years old, he was already going bald. He didn't look like a soldier at all. He looked like a filthy flamingo." And finally, an Englishman at a POW camp said of Billy, "This isn't a man. It's a broken kite."
Doesn't get much more pathetic than that.
So a quick overview: Kurt Vonnegut was in Dresden (Germany) when it was all but incinerated by heavy allied bombing during WWII, an experience which deeply affected him. He survived, oddly enough, because he was a POW. The Germans has the allied POWs housed in a meat processing factory. Slaughterhouse #5, to be specific.
Anyway, Kurt tells the story mostly through the eyes of Billy Pilgrim, who seems to me to have lost his mind. He thinks he's travelling through time, and perhaps he really is, but I just think he's remembering things out of sequence. The story is told linearly, and it hops around between past, "present", and future, but as I said, I just think Billy is remembering things as they come to him, and telling the story in that sequence.
Kurt's prose is filled with a wicked sense of dark humor, sarcasm, and above all, an ever-present sense of decency - of decent humanity - that just makes you happy. There's a really good bit at the end of Chapter #1 that captures these qualities quite well:
"I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction:
"The Sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar", I read. "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gommorah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground."
So it goes.
Those were vile people in those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them.
And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she *did* look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.
So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes."
That is just breathtakingly awesome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Oh yes, one more thing. You might have noticed Kurt's use of the phrase "So it goes", in the above selection. It's a recurring refrain he uses continually, every time somebody dies, or to convey a feeling of, "Whaddya gonna do?". Just for the hell of it I counted how many times he used that phrase. I came up with 98. But I was wrong. I looked it up, and apparently, he uses that phrase 106 times.
So it goes.”