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Friday, July 08, 2016

Slaughterhouse Five (1969) by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review
Slaughterhouse Five (1969)
by Kurt Vonnegut

  Kurt Vonnegut is an author I associate with college undergraduates and precocious high school upperclassmen, and Slaughterhouse Five is the most well known title of his, to the point where I have seen actual Slaughterhouse Five novelty baseball jersey's at every Boston Red Sox game I've ever attended.  Vonnegut is not just associated with college students in general, he is particularly associated with college students from the north-east, and actually lived and wrote in the Boston area.

  Slaughterhouse Five is about a time travelling optometrist who experienced the Dresden Fire Bombing as a POW and was later kidnapped by aliens in a flying saucer.  Like his abductors, Billy Pilgrim experiences all times simultaneously and Vonnegut structures the narrative in episodic fashion.  This technique- jumping backwards and forwards in time within the narrative- is of course a tried and true modernist stand-by, but never is it dealt with so specifically as Vonnegut addresses it.

  The experience is a kind of comic-book take on the high modernist novel, and by utilizing plot elements like an alien abduction, Vonnegut assured the attention of a genre audience.   Like other Vonnegutian novels of ideas, the underlying ideas themselves are not particularly complex.  That no doubt helped him with his target audience in the 1960's, and today it's a key to his continuing appeal with kids attending college.

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