Friday, February 13, 2009
Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children's Crusade, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Sometimes, you've got to go back to the classics.
One reading for most books is enough, before they are put back on the shelf or on the rollers at the library or on the counter at a secondhand book store. They proffered to the reader what they had to give, the reader accepted the gifts, and both move on with their lives, to new readers and new books.
And then there are, for most of us, the exceptions. The books that cling to us like barbed thistles, hoping to drop their seeds in some fertile ground further along the way. The books that we don't necessarily think about until they prickle us, until they remind us that they latched on when we stepped into them and don't intend to let go anytime soon.
One of my thistles is called Slaughterhouse-Five.
Kurt Vonnegut's little book is one of those few pieces that signify something extraordinary in my life. When I write a book, my goal will be to create a story so well written that it can sit next to Slaughterhouse-Five and feel like a child actor from the local theater meeting Marlon Brando. That's as close as I can hope to come. And it would be an exemplary accomplishment.
Each time I read Vonnegut's little book, it shows me something else. I'm still amazed at how something so simple can be so unbelievably complex. Anyone who thinks novelists write a story and then maybe read it through once or twice needs to read this book a half-dozen times just to understand how carefully crafted it is - how the images play off one another, how the scenes and the descriptions and the characters are mirrored, how much life went into each word and each paragraph.
Each time I read Vonnegut's little book, it reminds me what a damn good story it is, and I remember why I love it.
Kurt may be in heaven now, but Slaughterhouse-Five and his other books aren't. And thank God for that.