Slaughterhouse Five

The Book and Kurt

Slaughterhouse-Five captured my imagination (the book) and admiration (the author) on my initial read (way back in college). Neither has diminished when I’ve reread it over the years. When I visit schools or conferences and get the inevitable questions, who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite book, or when kids or adults ask about the difficult concept of voice, I seem to go back to Kurt Vonnegut, and this particular work of genius.


As with other abstract concepts and factors in the art/craft of writing (or life), voice is something that’s best explained by example.


A supreme court justice once tried to explain his approach on ruling what is (and isn’t) pornography. I can’t really define it, he said (I’m paraphrasing here), but I know it when I see it.


Similarly, voice is tough to define. Part personality, part attitude, part tone, part opinion, part point of view, it’s the opposite of bland fact. It’s the counterpoint to a stock market report or the color of a skirt or someone talking about what a nice day it is. It’s a report on the epidemic of gun deaths, or a story about the origins of a torn skirt, or a comment about a devastating day. All with a viewpoint, an attitude.


The parade pranced, staggered and reeled to the gate of the Dresden Slaughterhouse, and then it went inside. The slaughterhouse wasn’t a busy place anymore. Almost all the hooved animals in Germany had been killed and eaten and excreted by human beings, mostly soldiers. So it goes.


Truthful, sarcastic, fatalistic, funny, boundary-stretching, Slaughterhouse Five–a war story but much more–unfolds in a unique voice. It’s one I haven’t encountered outside this novel and Vonnegut’s other books. His way of storytelling is inspiring for sure but at the same time (at least for me) inimitable. But if you could imitate genius, everyone would be a genius, or at least an undetectable counterfeit, right? Even though he’s gone, Vonnegut’s voice continues on, one-of-a-kind.

(Review on Goodreads)

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