Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse Five

I was only vaguely familiar with Vonnegut. Then, when he passed last month, I read a lot about him and heard a good segment on NPR. So when I saw this book on CD at the library, I decided to give it a whirl.

The book follows Billy Pilgrim, a private in the American Army, who becomes a prisoner of war on the German front. There is plenty of gruesome realism as his co-prisoners die for various reasons.

There is also a plenitude of surreal and ridiculous situations. The book blends science fiction with the detailed portrayal of war. Billy is, in the future, abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who mess with his conception of time such that he periodically jumps in time through different parts of his life. So the narrative jumps from World War II, to his time on Tralfamadore, to his early years with his wife, to later periods of his life (set in some post-USA scenario) when he is trying to tell the world about Tralfamadore and the true nature of time.

I was really puzzled by the blending in of science fiction. However, after thinking about it, I think the point is that war itself is as strange a scenario as the Tralfamadoreans. The time-jumping also allowed for the revelation of character traits and other issues in a very unique way. I think it really worked for this storyline.

The climax of the book comes when the POWs are stuck in Dresden, in a bunker deep underground, and the Allied forces destroy Dresden. They come out and find a wasteland. It was pretty odd for me because I somehow thought that there were six CDs. So when I came to the end of the fifth, I thought there was more coming. Since the narrative jumped all over there wasn't the natural flow I expected.

This is the first book on CD I have ever listened too, and I think I will make it a regular thing. I have enough commute time (unfortunately) that I chewed through this 5 disc set in a week and a half. The narrator was Ethan Hawk, someone who I ordinarily am not a big fan of. Part of the reason I don't like him is his whispery, serious voice, he seems a bit of a sissy boy. But in this book it played quite well.

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