The period saw many novelists being taken up and embraced as radical chic: Albert Camus, Norman Mailer, Hunter S.Thompson, Herman Hess, Jean Genet, Allan Sillitoe, Gunther Grass, Yukio Mishima, Joseph Heller... (yes, primarily a list of males)but I doubt few were as generous as Vonnegut was in offering substance to mull over.
I think I've read Slaughterhouse Fivefive times over the past thirty years and I have tried to read ALL he wrote because there was so much there that was worth the reading, even though like a massive serial, the novels tend to merge with one another as often as the distant planet, Trafalmadore , becomes part of all these seemingly separate narratives. It's like this long line of montages: Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, The Sirens of Titan...
"and so it goes...."
Of course, Vonnegut -- he died this week at the age of 84 -- was no optimistic idealist. He was dogged by a very bleak vision indeed, affirmed in Dresden, that nonetheless was played out with such tension in his novels that you had to get caught up in the struggles this guy was having with himself. Vonnegut wasn't about insularity and angst or about giving up(despite his unsuccesful attempt at suicide ).
In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden not because fate or some god willed it, but because other men with morals and interests beyond Billy's comprehension, put him there. It wasn't his fault.
And Vonnegut thereafter kept on asking: why?
And Billy, like all of Vonnegut's protagonists,were victims of this nameless barbarity which for some unknown reason they had the capacity to survive as though survival -- humanely and desperately -- was all you could hope for.
In his way, Vonnegut was a bookend to Harold Pinter because they kept addressing the savagery that stalks us from without and, I guess in the case of Vonnegut, the only way he saw you could protect yourself from it was to ignore it and adopt an alienated & sterile existence that was such a shallow shell that to go looking for anything else was to court madness or a stint on a planet far far away.
I'm having trouble here trying to describe the way Vonnegut pitches all this. He is/was unique as a writer. A science fiction novelist -- who wasn't. That's because his stories were about the here and now rather than fictional futures. These were not hypotheses, at all, but exercises in lives lived in alienation under capitalism.
CV:" …I have wanted to give Iraq a lesson in democracy—because we’re experienced with it, you know. And, in democracy, after a hundred years, you have to let your slaves go. And, after a hundred and fifty years, you have to let your women vote. And, at the beginning of democracy, is that quite a bit of genocide and ethnic cleansing is quite okay. And that’s what’s going on now."
o Appearance on The Daily Show (September 2005)