Undoubtedly Vonnegut’s most influential work, Slaughterhouse-Five tells the satirical story of soldier Billy Pilgrim, captured by Germans and held in a defunct slaughterhouse. Unmoored to a conventional period in history, the events in Pilgrim’s life occur randomly and without a traditional chronological underpinning. His story deals with themes of free will, fate, and the illogical nature of the human mind.
Adapted for a magnificent George Roy Hill film three years later (perhaps the only film adaptation of a masterpiece which exceeds its source), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is the now famous parable of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran and POW, who has in the later stage of his life become “unstuck in time” and who experiences at will (or unwillingly) all known events of his chronology out of order and sometimes simultaneously.
Traumatized by the bombing of Dresden at the time he had been imprisoned, Pilgrim drifts through all events and history, sometimes deeply implicated, sometimes a witness. He is surrounded by Vonnegut’s usual large cast of continuing characters (notably here the hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and the alien Tralmafadorians who oversee his life and remind him constantly that there is no causation, no order, no motive to existence).
The “unstuck” nature of Pilgrim’s experience may constitute an early novelistic use of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; then again, Pilgrim’s aliens may be as “real” as Dresden is real to him. Struggling to find some purpose, order or meaning to his existence and humanity’s, Pilgrim meets the beauteous and mysterious Montana Wildhack (certainly the author’s best character name), has a child with her and drifts on some supernal plane, finally, in which Kilgore Trout, the Tralmafadorians, Montana Wildhack and the ruins of Dresden do not merge but rather disperse through all planes of existence.
Slaughterhouse-Fivewas hugely successful, brought Vonnegut an enormous audience, was a finalist for the National Book Award and a bestseller and remains four decades later as timeless and shattering a war fiction as Catch-22, with which it stands as the two signal novels of their riotous and furious decade.
ROSETTABOOKS BY KURT VONNEGUT
- Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction BUY NOW
- Bluebeard: The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916–1988) BUY NOW
- Breakfast of Champions BUY NOW
- Cat’s Cradle BUY NOW
- Deadeye Dick BUY NOW
- Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage BUY NOW
- Galapagos BUY NOW
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater BUY NOW
- Hocus Pocus BUY NOW
- If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young BUY NOW
- Jailbird BUY NOW
- Mother Night BUY NOW
- Palm Sunday BUY NOW
- Player Piano BUY NOW
- Slapstick BUY NOW
- Slaughterhouse-Five BUY NOW
- Sun Moon Star BUY NOW
- The Big Trip Up Yonder BUY NOW
- The Sirens of Titan BUY NOW
- Timequake BUY NOW
- Unready to Wear BUY NOW
- Welcome to the Monkey House BUY NOW