Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death is an anti-heroic sci-fi satire poem written by Kurt Vonnegut. Reading it today, I can’t help but compare it to Flowers in the Attic and Fahrenheit. While Vonnegut’s book might not be as well known as these earlier works, its enduring popularity is a clear indication of its merit.
The premise of the book is simple enough. An agency, called PRINCE OF SHIELD, is sent to interview survivors of a virus outbreak. Only a handful are spared, and those are the object of a relentless killing spree. PRINCE OF SHIELD takes place on the streets of Manhattan and involves a strange blend of killing, capturing, and the inevitable death of several important individuals. PRINCE OF SHIELD is more about human follies committed than it is about history. It’s also less about plot and more about the characters going through the action.
Vonnegut’s contribution to the literary world was his debut novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Though this was certainly one of the landmark books of its time, it remains obscure in the minds of most readers. After that, there were volumes of Woman in the City and Time & Tide and Isle of Dogs, none of which achieved near-perfection. The next book to receive attention was Slaughterhouse Five, which came out in 1970, to widespread critical acclaim.
The premise of Slaughterhouse Five is that one night a girl named Ariel witness a man brutally murder his own family. Afterward, she assumes the identity of the woman killer and becomes an itinerant avenger, traveling across America. But when the man she killed turns into the serial killer known as Jack O’Lantern, she has to deal with his ghost and with other demons who haunt the landscape of her small town. In essence, Ariel finds herself playing a game of cat and mouse with herself, a game she obviously cannot win. But along the way, she comes across a few true friends and even some enemies.
But Vonnegut’s greatest achievement in Slaughterhouse Five remains his treatment of language. Though he employs a wide vocabulary – in the book as well as in his various other works – this isn’t a kind of language that is conversational. It’s dense, impenetrable even. What you’re left with after reading this book is an immense, unsettled feeling that, for no obvious reason, never really quite leaves you. That’s not a criticism, but just an observation.
Kurt Vonnegut’s book has an unusual structure. It starts out as a short story, but it gradually develops until you’re halfway through the book. That’s because Vonnegut shifts the focus from the short story to the larger theme of societal dysfunction. He presents a rare example of modern literature in which the author utilizes a larger font to describe a smaller idea. His language is dense, his ideas are often intricate and his points are often pointed. But at the same time, much of what he says is delivered with perfect simplicity.
It’s easy to tell that Kurt Vonnegut wasn’t the best writer when it was about people. But that’s only one aspect of his oeuvre. He managed to make some great science fiction pieces and some exemplary, memorable short stories. And he’s also managed to turn in some great novels, many of which you can buy right now on your Amazon Kindle. So if you love Vonnegut and if you like his books, you should definitely read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonneguts.
Just don’t expect it to be just another “Good vs. evil” tale. Instead, this is a novel about the author’s life and his characters, and how those elements combine to tell a complex and intriguing story. As a writer, Kurt Vonnegut is best known for his short stories, but in this book, he manages to pull off an epic that all his fans will enjoy. If you like Vonnegut’s other works, then this is the one you need.