Jenn Reads: Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is our July pick for the Cheshire Cats Classics Club. It was chosen largely to appeal to men and to those who like more modern classics. This is not my typical fare, necessarily, and was not even on my to-read list. Far from it, actually.

I’m not sure what I thought Slaughterhouse Five was going to be, but whatever notions I had where quickly dispelled. I think I heard that it included a fictional planet, and time-travel and thought “Not for me…” First impressions are often wrong, prejudiced, and just down right stupid.

Slaughterhouse Five is a crisp 275 pages, easily read, and likely easily misunderstood. Some may find the scenes of Tralfamadore ridiculous, the war depictions brutal, the episodes of sex raunchy, but they unfortunately have missed the essence of the book. And don’t let the ease of reading the book fool you: Vonnegut is trying to send an important message on the destructiveness of war, finding happiness, and mental illness.

Slaughterhouse Five, to me, is an anti-war novel on the surface. The subtitle, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death alludes to the fact that so many of the men who bravely fight our wars are merely boys. They are dancing with death in a way many of us will never experience.

What Billy Pilgrim experiences and views at the bombing of Dresden forever changes him and shapes the novel. Billy’s “strange” behavior of time traveling and episodes on Tralfamadore are manifestations of his PTSD. Knowing that Vonnegut himself saw the bombing of Dresden makes you wonder how much of this was truly Billy Pilgrim’s story and how much of it was autobiographical. Anyone who has seen actual warfare is never the same.

I listened to this book, as I try to do with all of the classics we read for the club. Ethan Hawk was the reader for this version, which included an interview with Vonnegut. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with this book, having gone in with low expectations. Hawk’s reading of it was admirable, although the mixing on the recording was very low and he was often difficult to hear, and the story moved.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (but it’s a hearty 3 stars)

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