“ 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.”
“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
“So it goes.”
It’s odd. If someone were to ask me to name the first thing I think of when hearing the name “Kurt Vonnegut” I believe I’d say, “Writer” and probably “Genius.” But the simple fact is this: I haven’t read a single word from this man. All I know about him has come from other novelists and filmmakers that referenced or were influenced by his body of work. I decided to change that with my first foray into the 100/365 Project. I own a few of his books and thought that it would be apropos to start with “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
To say that this book is non-conventional and downright strange would be an understatement. The story centers on and American soldier named Billy Pilgrim. Billy has an interesting habit of becoming “unstuck” in time. He will be experiencing his present and will suddenly find himself in either the past or the future. Because of this, the novel follows a completely nonlinear time line. One moment we’ll be experiencing the horror of WWII and the next we’ll be thrust into Pilgrim’s infanthood.
A time traveling American soldier makes for an interesting story as it is, but “Slaughterhouse-Five” gets even stranger as the story progresses. We’re introduced to a race of aliens called Tralfamadorians. They abduct Pilgrim and take him to their planet to live as in an exhibit in a zoo. The Tralfamadorians are masters of the fourth dimension, i.e. time. They have seen every moment of their lives and every moment of the Universe itself. They tell Pilgrim that death is merely a moment in his life. It happens, but he is living in all the other moments of his life simultaneously. They’re firm believers in predestination. They tell Pilgrim, because they’ve seen every moment in time, that their race is the cause of the destruction of the entire Universe (a test pilot does this by starting the engine). Pilgrim asks them why they do not simply change the outcome and make sure this doesn’t happen. They shake their heads and tell him that it doesn’t work that way. They allow what happens to happen simply because it must.
Free will is obviously a question here. The Tralfamadorians have an answer for that: It does not exist. As one of them tells Pilgrim, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”
There are so many other plot points, some of them major, that I won’t go into. This review was meant to be a few lines and it’s turned into this. Overall, I recommend this book. It’s intriguing and labyrinthine in its structure and clever and witty at its heart.
As Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”
It’s simple. We don’t read as much as we should. This project, originally started by the website pajiba.com, is an effort to change that. Reading is not a dying art, but it is in dire need of resuscitation.
I’ll be reading 100 book within the next 365 days, starting January 1, 2011.
This is where I’ll chronicle my experiences with this project.