At last night’s meeting of The Artist’s Bookshelf, we tackled what many fans of Mr. Vonnegut consider to be his masterwork, Slaughterhouse-Five. We approached the novel as a contemporary “mythology” and focused most of our discussion on the author’s fragmented narrative technique, which seemed to parallel the subconscious journeys of the loveable but “alienated” protagonist Billy Pilgrim.
As always, the diversity of our group led to a wide range of opinions and observations. We encompassed at least three “war generations” (WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq), ranged in age from 18-85, and broke down into two distinct groups: those who had actually experienced encounters with UFO’s and the 4th dimension, and those who had not.
(For personal reasons, I will refrain from revealing my category.)
Some of us appreciated the dark humor and found portions of the book hilarious, others, not so much. We reached some consensus on the potency of Mr. Vonnegut’s anti-war message, and generally agreed that it had not diminished over time.
And in the end, we took some degree of comfort in the author’s cynical hopefulness, expressed so poignantly in the final chapter:
“If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still– if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.”
— p.186, Slaughterhouse-Five