Like Billy Pilgrim, the proprietor of A Superfluous Man has come unstuck in time. Perhaps the Tralfamadorians will equip their spaceships with fully reclining business class seats, unlike some airlines to go unnamed here… So it goes.
Title: Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Motivation: This article from the Times Literary Supplement, which provoked a desire to reread Mr. Vonnegut’s modern classic
Completed: March 23, 2012 (#22)
Recommendation: Still a jarring dissent from the typically sepia-toned mainstream literature on the Second World War
Like most, the proprietor of A Superfluous Man was introduced to Kurt Vonnegut’s writings as a teenager, when the author’s insouciant sarcasm seemed specially relevant. Unlike other works whose appeal tends to be limited mostly to adolescents (e.g., Atlas Shrugged), Mr. Vonnegut’s most famous novel has for the most part stood the test of this reviewer’s maturity. For those who have not yet read it, this satirical novel on the firebombing of Dresden (yes–you read that correctly) is no treacly paean to the Greatest Generation.
The above link leads to a review of Charles Shield’s recent biography of Mr. Vonnegut. Thomas Meaney, the review’s author, does an excellent job of elucidating the finer points of Mr. Vonnegut’s unique style, thus obviating the need to do so here. Meaney aptly selects the below passage from the autobiographical prologue to Slaughterhouse-Five as representative of Mr. Vonnegut’s macabre wit:
All of this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by a hired gunman after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.
I really did go back to Dresden with Guggenheim money (God love it) in 1967. It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground.
Jeepers creepers. Mr. Meaney is spot on in his discussion of this passage: “[Vonnegut’s] front-porch casualness, his perfectly inappropriate mention of the Guggenheim grant, his blithe, domesticating comparison to Dayton; and the impact of the last line – all of it signals a writer willing to take his satire to the very end.” So it goes.
For those who like their war literature earnest and sanctimonious, try Im Westen Nichts Neues, but if you can put up with some non-linear narration and bizarre (and successful?) science fiction elements, Slaughterhouse-Five still retains its humorous charms.