Last week I reviewed a non-fiction war novel about the Vietnam war. This week I’m writing review about a meta-fiction war novel about World War II. That’s about where the similarities begin and end.
Spoiler Free Summary & Review:
Billy Pilgrim is a WWII vet who has, as he describes, has become unstuck in time. This is both an allegory for his state mind and the device for which Vonnegut tells his story which is somewhat based on Vonnegut’s own experience in the war including being in Dresden during the fire bombing. The story jumps around between episodes occurring during his time in the war, a time while he was working as an optometrist, and later life when he’s living with his daughter. His getting “unstuck in time” was a side effect of being abducted by aliens. As Tim O’brien says, “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.”(1) and I believe when he wrote that maybe he had Slaughterhouse Five in mind.
- The Thing’s They Carried, 70
Genre(s): Metafiction, semi-autobiographical, science-fiction, war novel
3 Sentence Summary:
- Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, is a chaplain’s assistant gets lost behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge where he gets taken prisoner which inadvertently leads to the death of one of his fellow soldiers and one of the other soldiers blames Pilgrim and vows revenge.
- Billy Pilgrim gets “unstuck in time” which results in Billy living episodes from his former life while being transported with other prisoners from Luxembourg then to Dresden which get’s fire bombed and the war soon ends and billy is sent home where he soon exhibits signs of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and is hospitalized where he is introduced to the works of a science fiction writer, Ted Kilgore, and on his release gets married and goes to optometry school to become an eye doc all the while having a couple of kids.
- Billy Pilgrim gets abducted by aliens on his daughter’s wedding night who are able to see in four dimentions(1) and keep Pilgrim in a sort of bio-dome as a zoo animal and for unclear reasons(2) they abduct a female movie star for Pilgrim to mate with; with who he has a child with and then is sent into a time warp which seems to result in the event of him getting unstuck in time originally since now he travels back and forth in time which involves episodes of him going to New York to talk about his time traveling on a radio show (this results in his eviction from the studio) and giving a speech in 1976 at a Baseball game where he is assassinated(3).
“I’m going on a diet. I’m going to become beautiful for you.”
“I like you just the way you are.”
“Do you really?”
“Really,” said Billy Pilgrim. He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time-travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way.
America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hat themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk tradations of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand — glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
” ‘I could carve a better man out of a banana.’ ”
This is an excellent book and an American classic. If you’re interested in more discussion about the book, check out the Crash Course episode.
- It’s described that that they can see everything in all directions of time at once, as in they can see the past, present and future as if it were a very large picture they can see all of at one time. Mind bending stuff.
- If the aliens have seen everything that is, was, and will be, why are they still curious? They subscribe to fatalism since for them it is a fact as is the visual world for us however it’s interesting that they still exhibit a sense of scientific curiosity even though they already know everything.
- This is not the concluding event of the novel but the final thing to happen in the timeline since the story is non-chronological.