There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
So basically everyone I’ve ever talked to has read this book before me, and I’m kinda pissed off about that. Why didn’t y’all tell me I needed to read this? I know most people had to read it in high school, but I didn’t read any of the books normally assigned in high school because my teachers were all rebellious anti-establishmentarians and assigned books like Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison not H.G. Wells), The Sound and the Fury, and The House of the Spirits instead; I caught up on some missed classics in college and grad school, but I’m still catching up on others. Why didn’t anyone ever think to tell me, Oh hey, by the way, Ashley, you know Kurt Vonnegut HE’S SUPER GREAT.
I mean, I read Sirens of Titan a couple of years ago and liked it, but it’s no This Book. This Book is so dark and angry and funny and absurd, and it’s obviously deeply personal. It’s also one of the most quotable books I’ve ever read. I was bookmarking pages one after the other to save passages for future reference, and eventually I had to stop because I was reading a library copy and determined I just needed to buy my own and mark the hell out of that one instead.
It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?'”
So I don’t know, if there are any others of you out there who haven’t read this, but this book is Vonnegut’s attempt to finally put into words what his experiences with WWII mean to him, and specifically his experiences being present at the fire-bombing of Dresden, in which more people died than in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first chapter is actually told from Vonnegut’s first person POV, and while I’m sure it is slightly fictionalized, it also feels mostly true. He spent years trying to write this book and what ended up coming out of his pen was this absurdist, satirical humdinger of a book, in which WWII veteran Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time and is shuttled back and forth across his life, and also is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who experience four dimensions and view humans and their activities in quite a different way.
The easiness of reading this book belies its depth and anger, which is tremendous. It’s also a darkly funny book. You’re horrified even as you’re chuckling to yourself over his phrasing or his absurd imagery, and then a line comes along out of the blue to sucker punch you in the feelings. There is really no excuse for you not to read it. Even if you don’t end up liking it, it’s so short it’s worth giving it a shot. And even if, as Vonnegut says in this book, writing an anti-war book is about as useful as writing an anti-glacier book (“What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.”) this is still probably one of the greatest–if not the quintessential–anti-war books ever written. It’s important in a way that literature often aims for but doesn’t always reach.
And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.
So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.
People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore.
I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.”