Slaughterhouse-Five

This is the book Jess is reading in this episode, that he tells Luke is not for school.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1969 semi-autobiographical science-fiction anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut. The story, told in a non-linear fashion by an unreliable narrator, relates the life and experiences of a man from upstate New York named Billy Pilgrim, from his early years to his service during World War II, and post-war years – his experiences include time travel and alien abduction. The book centres on Billy’s capture by the German Army, and his survival of the Allied firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war.

Categorised as a postmodern, metafictional novel, it is characterised by Vonnegut’s signature style, with simple sentences underpinning a text of irony, sentimentality, black humour, and instruction. The short, declarative sentences give the impression of reading a factual report, while the focus shifts between the writer’s perspective as someone who met Billy Pilgrim to an omniscient third person narrator. The first sentence is, “All this happened, more or less”. It is considered one of the best first lines in American fiction. The sentence, “So it goes”, is used as a repetitive refrain throughout.

Slaughterhouse-Five received mostly positive reviews, and became a bestseller, staying on the New York Times Bestseller List for sixteen weeks. It has been adapted for stage and radio, and been turned into both a film and a graphic novel.

The novel is controversial, with many attempts of censorship against it, especially in school and college libraries. This makes Jess’ reading of it at school seem like a deliberate attempt to draw attention to himself. A story about someone who has been through terrible trauma until they find life meaningless seems to be something which Jess relates to.

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