Book #38: Slaughterhouse-Five

This was my second reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. The first time I read it, I focused on the funny parts. What with the aliens and Billy Pilgrim being “unstuck in time” and “So it goes” and all, I thought it was a hilarious novel.

This time was different. This time I thought it was beautiful. It helps that Vonnegut’s writing is beautiful. Sometimes, one sentence knocked me over and made me stop and thing (“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”). But what really struck me was all the things Vonnegut says about time and death.

Slaughterhouse-Five felt like a meditation on time and moments. Billy Pilgrim learned to see time differently from the Tralfamadorians. Basically, time doesn’t have to be linear. It can be experienced in “out of order” or all at once. I really, really liked the image of humans as centipedes, moving from baby to child to teenager to adult to old person, all at once. It comforts me to think that you can be young, old, and everything in between at the same time, somehow.

I think about time passing and the way people age all the time. Maybe it’s because I’m 22 and feel really stuck between being a college kind and a ‘real adult.’ I dunno. Either way, I like to think that moments in time can be stopped and frozen forever, even if they’re in the past. Slaughterhouse-Five kind of lets me think that way and reflect on those things.

And of course, I couldn’t end a blog post about this book without talking about “So it goes.” After I read Slaughterhouse-Five the first time, I started saying that (or thinking it) when I read obituaries or heard about deaths. It’s one of the most coldly distant, yet accurate and heartfelt statements about death. Death is a thing that happens. So it goes.

But what Billy says about what he learned when he was in a zoo on Tralfamadore was that “when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.” It’s comforting, isn’t it, to think that when people die, they’re not really gone. They’re still there, just at different points in time.

Whether you believe that that’s literally true or not, I think it’s a beautiful way to look at the world.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Jude the Obscure

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