cover image The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

Tom Roston. Abrams, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4489-1

Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five “is the rare, true war story,” according to this colorful debut from journalist Roston. Delving into the personal and creative process that created the novel, Roston explores the extent that Vonnegut’s experiences as a prisoner of war during the bombing of Dresden in WWII affected his life and writing—though Vonnegut denied any lasting traumatic effects, Roston wonders whether Slaughterhouse-Five may point toward undiagnosed PTSD. To that end, he digs through previous drafts of the novel in which Vonnegut worried he was being too “condemning of war,” and recounts anecdotes from those close to Vonnegut, including Bernard O’Hare, a war buddy of Vonnegut’s who’s featured in the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five. The work of psychologists, writers, and scholars also help Roston piece together a working definition and history of PTSD to see what it can reveal about the novel and its main character, Billy Pilgrim. Regardless of Vonnegut’s own mental state, Roston writes, “the novel resonates today as a metaphor for PTSD.” While Roston can occasionally go on tangents, his passion for Vonnegut’s writing is contagious. Vonnegut’s fans will find in this survey a fresh take on a classic. (Oct.)