It took me over 30 years to finally read a Kurt Vonnegut book. I think sometimes I don’t read a lot of classics because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed (Emma, I’m lookin’ at you).
This book is abstract, to say the least, but is still followable. Yon Yonson is the narrator, but only speaks of himself a handful of times. It’s mainly told as a third person story and is considered semi-autobiographical, as Vonnegut was actually there during the bombing of Dresden. He quickly introduces himself in the beginning, and mentions himself as a character during the time at Dresden, which is how he is able to tell the story. He recalls events using Billy Pilgrim as the main protagonist. You’re given glimpses back to the time he was in WWII through flashback, or as he says, through time travel. Billy believes that he was at one point, abducted by aliens (a speecies called Tralfamadorians) and was kept for years there as an animal in a Tralfamadorian zoo. These may actually be reactions to PTSD from being at the bombing at Dresden, or maybe he really was abducted, it’s never concluded, but the philosphies of these Tralfamadorians becomes the centerpoint to the book. Billy references the saying “so it goes” multiple times in the book. This comes from the Tralfamadorian’s thought process, that time is not linear, but just is. “So it goes”.
When traveling back in time, Billy flashes back mainly around the time he was in WWII and when he became a POW in Dresden, a center of controversy in WWII history. For a quick overview, Dresden was never seen as a target because it was not “involved” during WWII, but it was heavily bombed anyway toward the end of the war, taking the lives of thousands of civilians.
One of the many characters include Edgar Derby, a poor old teacher, who lied to get back into the Army. He told Billy a few times during the book, “If you’re ever in Cody, Wyoming, jas ask for Wild Bob”. Another unfortunate character is Roland Weary, a big, beefy dolt, with visions of grandeur and a bullying attitude, but even with his off-putting attitude, he does save Billy from certain death a few times during the story.
The final character I’ll mention, really isn’t a character, but an influence on Billy’s possible PTSD moments of time travel. His name is Kilgore Trout, a never-was author of si-fi novels. Billy is one of only a couple true fans of Trout’s work, and ends up meeting him back in his home town and even invites him to his wedding anniversary party. The si-fi novels center around time travel, much to the description of how Billy “travels”. Kilgore sees Billy in a trance-like state at one point during the party and tries to confront him, convinces that he has traveled through time, but Billy denies it.
Although you jump from place and time, to place and time throughout the book, it still goes in a forward direction, following Billy through his time during the war, at the end of it, and afterwards, when he marries and has children. The end of the book centers mostly around Billy and an old ex-Air Force pilot after a plane crash, and after being released from the hospital, where he unsuccessfully tries to tell about his time on Tralfamadoria.
“So it goes”
Overall, I enjoyed this writing style and was entertained by the book overall. I had no idea what this book was going to be about, and I wanted to keep it that way. I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s critiques of a classic, as well as a “controversial” novel. This review may seem long winded, but so much happens in this book, and although it bounces back and forth, it stays in line enough to not confuse. I would definitely recommend.