One summer back in high school I decided to go on a reading rampage. It was my last free summer – before I would start working regular jobs that would limit my days of just lazing about. That summer I immersed myself in the worlds of Shakespeare, Orwell, Kipling, Huxley, and others. But one book stood out amongst all of them: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade.
To say that it was different would be an understatement. When people would ask me what it’s about, there’s really only one line that can describe it: Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time. How else do you explain the story of an American soldier, captured by Germans in WWII, survived the bombing of Dresden, went home to marry and start a family, was put in an intergalactic zoo to be observed mating with an adult film star… oh, and he experiences all of this in different sequences thanks to the Tralfamadorians and their concept of non-linear time? Like I said, it was a different book…
This novel introduced me to the style of absurd writing. It introduced me to the concept of antiheroes. It introduced me to dark comedy, self-referential narration, plant-connects, literary choruses, and metafiction. Even though I had wanted to write for some time, reading Slaughterhouse-Five opened my heart and mind to what and how I wanted to write. That’s not to say that my desire was to copy the style of the book, rather I started to recognize my own voice as it matched the absurdity of what was inside. I realized that tearing apart the world and recreating it in your own bizarre image was the best way to show how beautiful it is no matter how much tragedy you must wade through to get to it.
Even though I never met the man, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. had a great influence on the fine, well-adjusted individual that turn into the smart-assed writer posting immature snippets for your enjoyment. Over the next few years into my formative college days, I started reading every book of his I got my hands on: Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle (my personal favorite), Mother Night, Sirens of Titan… They were all magnificent. Everything he wrote was exactly what I wanted to read. Even analyzing his novels was fun – I wrote 2 or 3 term papers on his books and enjoyed the process of digging deeper behind the scenes of such a great writer.
Right now I probably sound like a schoolgirl gushing about her favorite band and how adorable the lead singer is, but many of us have complete strangers who manage to have a profound impact on our life. This isn’t hero worship; there is no idolization here, rather a deep found respect and admiration. Kurt Vonnegut is the writer I wish I could be and a major reason why I continue to write this blog and consider other outlets for my attempts at creativity.
I don’t know how to wrap this up, other than saying that there are far greater tragedies in life than the death of an 84 year-old man, no matter how great of a writer he was. Vonnegut himself would be the first to accept the news of his passing with graciousness and a slight turn of a phrase – at which I seem to be failing spectacularly. Personally, the news still managed to touch me more than I might have expected for someone who I only knew through his work. I guess that shows just how much his work managed to touch me.
So it goes.