Vonnegut: A Turning Point

There are so many classics, so many authors that I haven’t read without any intended slight toward them.  There just isn’t time, even when you’re constantly reading.  Unfortunately, Kurt Vonnegut is not an author I have innocently bypassed.  Truth be told, he is an author I have consciously avoided for the sole reason that he is beloved by…hipsters.  It’s true.  I lumped him in a “Hip” Lit category with writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, J.D. Salinger, and Dave Eggers and, consequently, wanted nothing to do with him.  I can guarantee you will see at least one of these authors being read in any indie coffee shop you walk into these days–and I’ve worked in a fair few.  9 times out of 10 the person reading it will be a hipster.  Go ahead, give it a try:

All right, so I added the Vonnegut profile but you’d probably yell, “Bingo!” a lot sooner if it were on the card (The actual Hipster Bingo cards are available for purchase on Esty.com).

However, a number of my good friends sincerely love Kurt Vonnegut.  The steady praise for his books by people of intelligence whose opinions I value and respect caused my firm stance against Vonnegut to weaken. Perhaps I should give him a chance, I began to think.  After all, I’d read Fight Club, which didn’t impress me, and Fanny and Zooey, which was surprisingly enjoyable, and was none the worse for these forays into hipster lit.  Then for Christmas I was given a lovely 25th anniversary edition of Slaughterhouse-Five.  My time to attempt Vonnegut had finally come.

So, I read it and found it strange, forthright, and unconventional.  Did I love it? No.  Am I glad I read it? Yes, I am.  As someone with no Vonnegut priors, I was not expecting aliens or time travel to be involved in an account of the bombing of Dresden during WWII.  Nor did I expect the straightforward style in which it was written, especially when paired with such fantastic elements.  Yet, the style and content worked well together to lend interest, humanity, and perspective to this war story without romanticizing it, hence the alternate title, The Children’s Crusade.  He shows the grittiness of war but maintains an undercurrent of hope.  I was pleased to find that Vonnegut was not pretentious at all–my primary assumption when faced with hipsters–and intrigued that he wrote both as both a journalist and a fabulist.

The reason I did not fall in love with this books was that I found it more an interesting read, stylistically, rather than an engaging one.  I was engrossed in patches and had a wandering mind in others–I suppose I could say I became “unstuck” in Billy Pilgrim’s narrative.  I didn’t entirely accept the device of time travel and I never connected with any characters, though I did enjoy the Science Fiction writer, Kilgore Trout.  As a result, I emerged from Slaughterhouse-Five feeling neutral.  There were a few beautiful passages and notions, however, enough to make it worth swallowing my (ignorant) pride and giving Vonnegut a chance.  While I have no desire to run to the library in search of his other novels, if a friend tells me there is one I “must” read, I will with no qualms.  Vonnegut is not just for hipsters, you know.

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