1001 Group Read-December, 2012: Slaughterhouse Five
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One question which I think might provoke some interesting discussion is whether this book should or could be described as "Science Fiction." Any thoughts?
Here's what I wrote about the book on my progress thread:
I loved it. It was unashamedly scattered and bizarre but it had my brain buzzing away the whole time I was reading it. After finishing the book I read that it has been criticised for being fatalistic and quietest. However, without any knowledge of the authors intent or context, it felt very much to me more like a parody of fatalism. Or at the least, a fatalistic attitude was a way of dealing with the horrors of war (along with a comfortable descent into madness.) The 'So it Goes' refrain created what might be described as a 'leitmotif' for death. While on the surface it was used to highlight the insignificance of death, to the reader (or to this reader at least!) it acted as a constant reminder of the human element of death and destruction. The starkest example to me what a line which described bombers flying overheard which didn't drop their bombs, they were going somewhere else. This line had 'So it goes' tacked on the end, meaning that our usual response of immediate relief is hit with the reality that those bombers will still be taking lives that night.
Anyway, that more than enough waffle for one evening. Excellent book.
#3 - I could see it being science fiction, but a kind of "camp" science fiction like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not any quality science fiction like Asimov writes.
#6 - Let me see if I can address the issue of it being a "classic". It all has to do with the date that it was published - 1969. At that time the big thing in the US was the war in Viet Nam. We were not winning, the American public watched the war every evening on the television news. We watched our boys being blown up, the jungle exploding in orange and yellow clouds of napalm, Hanoi being saturation bombed everyday, and protesters filling the streets of America. Now, along comes Slaughterhouse Five - a publishers dream. It was an overnight, anti-war sensation. It has indeed lost a lot of its meaning in that regard because it was a book for it's time. Much like The Jungle, which we just finished, it was a book written to address/expose/question a specific issue. I guess one has to ask, "Now that the issue is gone, what good is the book?"
The one thing that I have not been able to figure out (and I would like to hear some other comments on this) is whether the narrator--who in the end is Vonnegut himself--is being portrayed as having a compulsive behavioral problem. Of course I'm talking about the phrase "So it goes." Everytime he referrs to death or a word synonimous with death, he plugs in the phrase. Especially after the word "dead." So it goes.
This seems to me to be some kind of a psychosis and wonder if that is what Vonnegut is trying to portray. Is he saying that POWs by-and-large came out of their WWII experience with some type of psychotic issue? As I moved along through the book, I found myself looking for the use of a death related word where he failed to use the phrase, but did not find one. So it goes.
I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.
Early in the book he explains (IIRC) that the Tralfamadorians say 'so it goes' when someone/thing dies to emphasise that death is essentially just a meaningless event (since they are still alive at other infinite points in time.) This could be the way that a soldier's mind is forced to work to deal with the scale of death that they see.
This book is a fascinating contrast to Schindler's List which we read as a group read last year. I could not manage to read that book because it was just one horror after another. Each one was a near knock-out punch. Slaughterhouse Five on the other hand is very easy to read. Nothing knocks you out. So it goes.
I saw the Tralfamadorian part as him feeling like a puppet on a string; on display and being manipulated into a specific role. He read this plot line in a Trout novel and then projected himself into the role. It feds into the 'so it goes' line - he felt that people are rather helpless and there really isn't much that can be done to stop this helplessly so we must plough on and deal with whatever comes our way.
And then the part with Edgar is the ultimate paradox. In war, there are few (if any) rules and one can kill with impunity. But as soon as you are removed from that, silly things like stealing a tea pot are punishable by death.
Hunh.. who knew that I would become a Vonnegut fan! Happy new year everyone...
Perhaps I've gotten to used to overly dramatic, visually rich stories like Weisel's Night and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief but I just felt no power behind the tale. Everything was seen at such an arms length that it failed to pull me in: to the story, to the character's feelings, to caring about the story at all. I read the final page thinking...who cares? I'm sure that was not the author's point.
That said, I'm not turned off by Vonnegut...yet. I'll try a few more to see if there really is no chemistry.