I read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut last week, for the first time. It was my first Vonnegut book, too. It was amazing.
I don't think there's much to write about it that hasn't been written before. I'll just say that it was easily the best book I've ever read that was written in a non-traditional form. It's just a collection of scenes from the life of the main character, Billy, presented in what seems like no particular order, though it is actually very carefully crafted. Genuine genius.
I do want to share two passages that were spot-on predictions of the future, or rather, our present. (The book was published in 1969.)
The first passage relates two scenes with Billy in a psychiatric hospital after World War II. They touch on the growing complexities of modern life:
- "Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn't science fiction. He said that everything there is to know about life was in The Brothers Karamozov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. 'But that isn't enough anymore,' said Rosewater." "Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to a psychiatrist, 'I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren't going to want to go on living.' "
The second passage comes toward the end, and includes Billy's friend O'Hare. It is interspersed with the phrase "So it goes," which Vonnegut uses whenever he talks about someone dying. It comes from the viewpoint of the Tralfamadorians, an alien race that plays a role in shaping Billy's life. The Tralfamadorians can see in four dimensions and can travel to any point in time and see their whole lives, birth to death, and therefore don't see death as a big deal. So it goes.
- O'Hare "was looking up the population of Dresden, which wasn't in the notebook, when he came across this, which he gave me to read: On an average, 324,000 new babies are born into the world each day. During that same day, 10,000 persons, on an average, will have starved to death or died from malnutrition. So it goes. In addition 123,000 persons will die for other reasons. So it goes. This leaves a net gain of about 191,000 each day in the world. The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the world's total population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000. 'I suppose they will all want dignity," I said. 'I suppose,' said O'Hare."