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Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (3/5)

7 Apr

I always struggle to review ebooks because I read them so slowly. A few of you commented on how long it was taking me to finish it and it’s because of how I read ebooks. Usually, while waiting for the doctor or while eating lunch at work. Not the longest stretches of time, I’m telling you. So this was a good ebook for me because it was short and I can remember the beginning now that I’ve arrived at the end.

Cover image via

Cover image via

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Summary from Goodreads:

Slaughterhouse-Five introduces Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow him simultaneously thru all his life’s phases, concentrating on his (& Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as a prisoner of war who witnesses the Dresden firebombing.

The aliens were a surprise. When I said that in a WWW post, a lot of people were surprised that there were aliens in this book but I assure you there are. It was a surprise for me, too. It was a good tool to use for Billy to travel through time and I liked them. They were even my favorite part of the plot. I wasn’t a fan of Billy, though. He was a fool and I know that was Vonnegut’s purpose but it made him hard to like. It’s how I felt about Daisy in Gatsby. You want to like him, but he’s too foolish to be someone you sympathize with. The time jumping was fine with me, I tend not to mind that in books. Overall, it was enjoyable but not something I’d instantly deem a classic. Maybe with some distance (or this review) I’ll see why. I think it’s interesting that Vonnegut chose Slaughterhouse-Five as the title. It was a small, yet significant, part of the plot. I’ll have to focus my pondering on that.

I liked Billy’s feeling of misplacement within the world during the war. I can understand why he felt that way and I’ve seen similar themes in other war novels. I liked when Vonnegut would tell me that he was one of the other soldiers in the war with Billy. I liked how that let me believe he was writing from memory but not about himself. It’s hard to say if I thought Billy’s behavior with the aliens was credible or not. I can’t imagine how I would react if I were kidnapped by aliens but I think I would be a bit more like Montana. I found that relationship a bit odd. I’ve heard she shows up in some of Vonnegut’s other books and I’d be interested to see in what capacity.

There wasn’t a character I particularly liked in the novel. Billy annoyed me and everyone else was minor. I liked the fellow soldiers best, the British soldiers at the POW camp. They had a very startling attitude toward the war and it was a great contrast in the book. I thought their attitude toward the Americans was appropriate and it made me dislike the Americans and feel sorry for them at the same time, the way the British felt.

I could understand Billy’s sense of loss after experiencing the Tralfamadorian time travel. He knew how life would end. He knew when people would die and could jump from time to time. It’s like watching the movie you’ve already read the book of. You remember some parts better than others, but you understand who will live, who will die, and who isn’t important. It would be weird to live like that, but it made for a cool view on life for the character.

Kurt Vonnegut Image via Wikipedia

Kurt Vonnegut
Image via Wikipedia

I liked the scenes on Tralfamadore. I’ve read a lot of WWII books but this was the first involving aliens and it was a nice change. The feeling of displacement between Germany and Tralfamadore were similar and maybe that’s why Billy adjusted to life on the planet better than Montana did. It was funny to hear how the aliens reacted to the humans and the things we did that might confuse them most.

I didn’t like old Billy. He was so passive-aggressive and pitiful that he was annoying and unlikable. He felt sorry for himself so I wasn’t about to feel bad for him. I felt the same way his daughter did: frustrated. I wanted those scenes to end so I could get back to the war or Tralfamadore.


Billy couldn’t change anything. He knew what was going to happen and was powerless to stop it. The phrase ‘So it goes’ comes up constantly. Billy couldn’t change the things to happen, so life continued on the way it was always going to happen. People would die and terrible things would happen. So it goes. Billy couldn’t change the war or his death, it just happened. Most of us are powerless to stop what happens around us and even if we think we’ve made a change, maybe it would have happened that way regardless. We can’t see the future but if we could, could we change it? Not likely.

Writer’s Takeaway: There were devices Vonnegut used in the book that I liked and made the style stick out to me. The first was, as mentioned above, the repeated use of ‘So it goes.’ Having a phrase like this is memorable and helped me when book switching to get back into the novel. It’s memorable and talks about a major theme of the novel. I also enjoyed when Vonnegut would identify himself in the book. It was cool to see what parts of the book might have been his memories and what parts were imagined or observed. It felt more legitimate to have Vonnegut tell me he was part of the book.

An enjoyable book with memorable characters, but to me, it wasn’t an instant classic. Three out of Five stars.


Until next time, write on.

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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut | Musings of a Literary Dilettante’s Blog