Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #13 – Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I read this book because it was mentioned in the Pajiba article about what books say about one’s date, and felt pretty ashamed that I had not crossed paths with Vonnegut despite my many literature classes. Stupid professors. Anyway, holy cow! It sucks that I didn’t read this when I was younger, but maybe then (back when the earth was cooling) I might not have gotten it. So maybe it’s better that I came to the book on my own, rather than being forced to.

I’m guessing most people already know the story: Billy Pilgrim is awkward, odd, may or may not have been kidnapped by aliens and forced to live in an alien zoo, and may or may not be able to travel through time. The story jumps around from Billy’s (then) current time, WW2, the alien planet, various other places in the past, and briefly the future. Billy intersects with the narrator in Dresden during WW2 as prisoners of war (and at least that part was based on Vonnegut’s own experiences). Here’s where I got a little confused. The book is called Slaughterhouse Five, which made me think that the bulk of the story took place there, in Dresden, during the firebombing. I was surprised when I realized I was halfway through the book and we weren’t anywhere near Dresden.

Billy’s time travels usually take place when he is experiencing some trauma, and if I’m not mistaken, most of his travels are to the past, aside from the trips to space. Either way, it looks to me (and I’ve never studied this book, so I could be totally wrong) like Billy has a very rich fantasy life where he retreats when reality becomes too much. I think most people do, only his is more vivid, and can intrude on his real life – like when he was placed in a mental institution after coming home from the war with shell shock.

There was nothing I didn’t love about this book. I find it interesting that it’s one of the most banned (or attempted-to-be-banned) books ever. Ok, sure, it’s profane, blasphemous, violent, and a bunch of other stuff some people don’t like, but if those people looked beneath the surface, they would find a beautiful story about a man who is lost, “unstuck in time,” trying to make sense of the ridiculousness of reality. And so it goes.

Kayt’s #CBR5 Review #4: Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Image

Galapagos explores an interesting question: what is the future of the human race one million years down the road?

Galapagos is a great novel, one of the last great novels of Kurt Vonnegut’s career. Told from the perspective of the ghost of Leon Trout one million years in the future, it offers an upfront commentary on human nature and society that is scathing, comical and consistently fascinating. Trout died while building the Bahia di Darwin, the ship which would become the second Noah’s Ark. He decides to stay a ghost, rather than venture into the afterlife, and observes the evolution of mankind from the passengers on this ship, to the flippered kin of the future.

The passengers, from who all of mankind one million years in the future is descended, consists of a Captain, an American widow, a Japanese woman and her daughter, a young blind girl, and six Kanka- Bono girls native to South America, each one with a funny or absurd back story. The book follows their journey from Ecuador to a remote island in the Galapagos, while the rest of civilization falls into shambles.

Although we don’t specifically witness these scenes, we know that these people become the ancestors of all mankind ( what happens to the rest of humanity is a bit ambiguous, though there is brief mention of a fertility destroying disease), and mankind, over the course of one million years, adapts to the new environment, adaptations which include significantly smaller brains, and flippers, perfected for fishing purposes.

Vonnegut breaks the cardinal rule of any intro to writing class: show, don’t tell,  but he does so to brilliant effect. Trout tells most of the story, what will become of mankind, what has brought this odd myriad of characters together, but it never feels lacking. Vonnegut’s precise, and humorous writing style, creates an engrossing, and immensely enjoyable read.

Vonnegut’s trademark satire and social commentary, and almost addictive writing style are put to good use, in this interesting novel and I can not recommend it enough.