Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I’m thinking about this one, a reread, in juxtaposition to the last one I read—an account of a battle in
But back to Vonnegut. Billy Pilgrim is an innocent sent to war without a gun—as a chaplain’s assistant. He’s captured in The Battle of the Bulge near the end of the war and sent behind German lines as a laborer in
Billy has become “unstuck in time”. He’s abducted by aliens and held prisoner on the planet Tralframadore where he’s put, naked, in a zoo under a dome (because he can’t breathe the cyanide atmosphere) on display, eventually with a female and child. He never knows exactly where or when he’ll be at any one time—freezing in the snow in the battle he doesn’t understand, on a train moving east with other prisoners, in the slaughterhouse or wandering the city afterwards, or some time in his subsequent life where he becomes an wealthy optometrist, marries Valencia and has a son who becomes a Green Beret in Vietnam, or on Tralframadore. He does know when he’ll die though, an irate American soldier (Lazzaro) promises a dying soldier (something of a crazy actually) to take revenge on the man responsible for his death—Billy Pilgrim, and in 1976 he does.
Nothing about the war, the battles—where both sides are scraping the bottom of the barrel for soldiers (old men and children) and equipment—even clothing—or the firestorm, is heroic. The end is in sight, the big decisions made, and it’s all over but the last of the dying. “So it goes” as Vonnegut says with every mention of death in this novel.