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Slaughterhouse-Five ()

The Hungry Mind Review's 100 Best 20th Century Books

"I saved your life again, you dumb bastard," Weary said to Billy in the ditch. He had been saving Billy's life for days, cursing him, kicking him, slapping him, making him move. It was absolutely necessary that cruelty be used, because Billy wouldn't do anything to save himself.

I suppose that once upon a time, this novel must have seemed terribly arch or ironic.  Perhaps it is simply a function of living in the Decade of Irony, but now it just seems fairly sophomoric.

Billy Pilgrim, a WWII vet & optometrist, has come loose in time.  He pops back & forth from Dresden during the fire bombing, to the planet Tralfamadore--where aliens have placed him & film star Montana Wildhack in a zoo, to the future where he is assassinated.  This all provides Vonnegut with a hip & trippy way to comment on life, but becomes pretty tedious. Vonnegut is one of those authors, like Robert Ludlum, where the first book of his you read is always your favorite & you gradually realize that every subsequent one you read is identical to the first--we'll call this the Ludlum Factor.

In a genuine irony, while the ostensible purpose of the novel is to wallow in guilt over the brutality with which we liberated Germany from Nazism, the excerpt above expresses precisely the reason why force is sometimes necessary.

If you're going to read one Vonnegut, this one should be it, but there is no way this book should be #18, if it should be listed at all.


Grade: (C)


Kurt Vonnegut Links:

    -ESSAY: Kurt Vonnegut’s Socialism From Outer Space (Matthew Gannon Wilson Taylor, 4/11/21, Tribune)
-ESSAY: Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: On Tom Roston’s ‘The Writer’s Crusade’ (Hannah Gersen, November 22, 2021 , The Millions)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: On Slaughterhouse-Five, the “Ultimate PTSD Novel”: Tom Roston Considers the Ongoing Popularity of Kurt Vonnegut’s Classic (Tom Roston, November 10, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Kurt Vonnegut: atheist, socialist, trad: Vonnegut did plenty to offend the conservative Christian sensibilities that characterized my educational institutions (Grayson Quay, January 16, 2021, The Spectator)
   -ESSAY: Kurt Vonnegut, Christ-Loving Atheist (Dan Wakefield, Image)
    -Q&A: Dear Mr. Vonnegut (Kurt Vonnegut | 2.28.03, In These Times)
   -ESSAY: VONNEGUT AT 80 He's mad about being old and mad about what's going on in America, but author Kurt Vonnegut still extolls the virtues of basic human decency. (David Hoppe, January 2003, NUVO)
    -ESSAY: Harrison Bergeron’s Equitable Tyranny (Caroline Breashears, 3/12/21, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: What Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” Tells Us Now (Salman Rushdie, 6/13/19, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Slaughter-House Five (NY Times)
-REVIEW: of The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse Five, by Tom Roston (PETER TONGUETTE, American Conservative)


    -ESSAY: A Fan’s Notes: The Kurt Vonnegut Documentary 40 Years in the Making (Jonny Diamond, November 19, 2021, LitHub)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (Metacritic)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (DAVID BIANCULLI, NPR: Fresh Air)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (Kyle Smith, National Review)

Book-related and General Links:
-FEATURED AUTHOR : Kurt Vonnegut (NY Times Book Review)
    Harrison Bergeron (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961)
    -WRITERS ON WRITING (by Vonnegut from the New York Times)
    -The Vonnegut Web
    -Welcome to the Monkey House!
    -Literary Research Guide: Kurt Vonnegut (1922 -)
    -ESSAY: BRILLIANT CAREERS: Mad Humanist: In Kurt Vonnegut's world, free will is an open question, life is poignant and pointless and kindness is appreciated above all else (FRANK HOUSTON, Salon)
    Kurt Vonnegut Vs. the !*!@ (Joel Bleifuss, February 10, 2003, In These Times)
    -PROFILE : Net prophet: Kurt Vonnegut (Bloomsbury Magazine)
    -ESSAY : History and Memory in Slaughterhouse Five and Time's Arrow (V. Archer)
    -Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five
    -REVIEW : of Slaughter-House 5 (March 31, 1969, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Justified or a Callous Act? The Bombing of Dresden Explained (Graham Land, 8 August 2018, History Hit)


Read "Cat's Cradle" instead. That book pounds SH5 into meat pulp.

- Dr. Rock

- Oct-12-2008, 17:01


Your book reviews aren't very good. They don't express what your particular biases are and they don't seem to try and understand what's going on in the works that you're reviewing. Feel free to dislike Slaughterhouse Five, but at least pick up on what Vonnegut is doing in the story and comment on *that*, instead of vaguely brushing off a masterwork of American literature without even a specific gripe.

- bkd

- Nov-11-2005, 12:02


I'm sorry, but there is no way you can keep SH-5 off the list of the top 100 books of the century. It captures the peace movement in a unique way that does not preach and does not point fingers and does not claim that war is unnecessary. Vonnegut is a genius...and all his books are not the same. I have read many, and they all have different messages, not to mention they are all very different in plot. And although I read Bluebeard first, Cat's Cradle is my favorite.

- Megan

- Nov-05-2003, 19:39