Friday, July 27, 2012

Thoughts from the "Slaughterhouse"

There are not many, really, so this will be over quickly. Painlessly. Much like annihilation. So it goes.

If you are a reader then Kurt Vonneget’s “Slaughterhouse Five” should be on your reading list (perhaps it was already). If it's not, don’t shove it to the top. It can wait.

Should you be a writer however, make certain to read this book--and do it quickly. This short piece is simple to describe: “brace yourself.” While I can’t think I’ve ever read anything like this (and hope I never do again), as a writer, I am encouraged because “Slaughterhouse Five” is evidence there is no such thing as writer’s block. Follow the example of Vonnegut: put pen to paper and write! This book stands as an excellent example free-writing—it can be done (if Vonnegut actually had a plan, then I'm sorry)! Caveat: I did not say a story free-written would be widely received. The story may be interesting but not much good. Vonnegut’s is not far from manure: it’s good for gardens, but not much else.

There are few passages of genius here, such as this scene describing the slow passing of time:

The time would not pass. Somebody was playing with the clocks, and not only with the electric clocks, but the wind-up kind, too.  The second hand on my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again. There was nothing I could do about it. As an Earthling. I had to believe whatever the clocks said—and calendars.”

That is simply golden.

Theological subjects surface in the story with some twisted discussions of God and Christ. One statement catches my attention concerning the crucifixion:

“’Oh, boy—they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!’ And that thought had a brother: ‘there are right people to lynch.’ Who? People not well connected. So it goes.”

Then there is this insightful commentary on the American Dream:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand—glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.”

Writers will do well to watch how Vonnegut uses phrases.   

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