Tuesday, September 30, 2014
At some point or another someone described Slaughterhouse-Five to me very badly. They told me it was the story of the Dresden firebombing reinterpreted as an alien attack by soldiers who were too shell-shocked to cope with the actual firebombing.
I don't remember who gave me this description but I do know that it prevented me from reading this awesome book for at least a decade.
I'm pretty disappointed in myself for letting someone else's interpretation of a book keep me from reading that book but so far that behavior has served me pretty well - if a book can be tidily explained in a sentence or two I probably don't want to read it unless it was written by Stephen King, is about Harry Potter, or is non-fiction. SciFi and fantasy books that can be explained in the same space as a fortune cookie are even worse than normal books that have short summaries because I don't really think SciFi or fantasy can be engaging unless they're too complicated to explain.
One of the best ways to convince me not to read a book is to tell me what it's about; conversely the very best way to pique my interest in a book (or movie, or TV show) is to say "I can't really explain it without telling you the whole thing - you'll just have to read it." YES. That is what I'm looking for. I want something immersive and complicated and beautiful that relies on each little piece inside the whole to hold it up and make it hang together. If you can cut out huge plot points and whole characters and get the same story out of it you're not reading a book, you're playing Jenga with words. This, by the way, is why so many people get pissed off when movies are made out of books (if you cut out the secret keeper huge chunks of the rest of the series don't make sense and it makes a bunch of other characters look really stupid *cough*AlfonsoCoron*cough*) - because you can't make a move, even a really long and expensive and well-done movie, and have it be the same thing as the book.
But that was all tangent. What it really comes down to is I read Slaughterhouse-Five and I fucking loved it. I'm still doing plenty of kicking myself for not reading more Vonnegut sooner but, damn, I really wish I hadn't gotten spooked all those years ago.
Slaughterhouse-Five isn't about a firebombing, it's about how nothing is about the firebombing, not even the bombing. This book is about coping and questions and reality and it's funny and dark and sad and sweet and it feels like it festered inside Vonnegut so long that it had to hurt its way into being.
I really like it when I read books that remind me to be a better person. And I think that's exactly what Slaughterhouse-Five did.
So it goes,
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. Dell Publishing. New York: New York. 1966.