Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Books: Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I think I was about 12 or 13 years old when I discovered Kurt Vonnegut. I read every book of his in rapid succession, like so many chocolate truffles. Last month my book group, which I hardly ever attend, chose Slaughterhouse Five to read. They've been working through some classic twentieth century American novels, I believe this month it's Updike. Anyway, I wasn't able to make it to the meeting (which is typical), but I did pick up the book from the local library.

Hang on, let me just interject here that I've fallen back in love with public libraries. One of the many great things about my fabulous new house is that I'm just a few blocks away from a branch of the Austin Public Library. The whole internet-meets-public library combination is so spectacular, you know? I love ordering up a book, telling it to come and meet me at my local branch, and then snatching it off the shelf a day or two late. And then I can take it home and read it for free. LOVE THAT. I'm a card-carrying member now. I even have a little mini keychain card.

So, back to Vonnegut. I read it (again) in about three sittings, which reminded me of why I loved Vonnegut so much as a kid - readable! I love how the story is his story, but not his story. How you know (because he tells you) that much of the fiction is shot through with threads of fact from his own experiences. I love how you still can't be quite sure which is which; where fiction ends and fact begins. I love that it's an anti-war novel, but also a time-travel novel, and also an American novel. I love how it's written in plain English, because I hate it when writers feel the need to clutter up complex ideas with complex prose. I love how, ultimately, it's a song about impermanence. Yours, mine, ours, Dresden's. The earth's.

My favorite part is when the hero, Billy Pilgrim, is watching a documentary about the war, only in reverse. The American planes fly backwards over Dresden, scooping up bombs into their holds, returning them eventually to American soil, where they are disassembled by women and their parts are carefully separated out and the minerals are buried in the earth where they cannot harm anyone. That passage made me cry.

What are you reading?

1 comment:

ttrentham said...

Love Vonnegut. I'm reading The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.