I think Vonnegut’s writing finally clicked for me sometime near the end of this book. Up until that point, I felt like I was missing something. Yes, I understood it as satire, but something this absurd had to have a much larger meaning that I just wasn’t getting. I felt the same thing while reading “Slaughterhouse-Five” as well.
In both cases, it took me most of the book to get over that hump. But once I did, they are glorious works to behold. I think, for me, the larger meaning is that the world is beautiful and doomed. I find that his mindset is similar to Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”. What do you do when you find out that we are all on the edge of chaos? That at any moment, your perfect world can turn to shit, or you can die? You either embrace the darkness, lose your mind and go live in the jungle, or you appreciate the beauty of the world and laugh in chaos’ face.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I like Vonnegut’s approach better.
It took what seems like months to get through this 952-page tome. Oh, that’s right, it almost did take months. The reasons I picked it over the many other Civil War books is because it covers the entire war in one volume and because it won the Pulitzer Prize. It was well worth the time invested.
While I’m sure it’s not as thorough as other longer books on the subject, given that I’m not reading it in an academic context, it was the perfect amount of thorough for my purposes. It was well-written, easy to read and easy to follow, but the battle scenes could have been clearer. It was hard to follow all of the different characters in the different battles. By the time you get to the parts where he’s describing specific battle maneuvers, you’re sufficiently lost unless you’re a war historian.
Where the book really shines is when it gets into the social and cultural impact of the conflict. It’s astounding how deeply ingrained slavery was into Southern society. So much so that the South convinced themselves that they were fighting the cause of freedom (of their right to hold slaves). Oh, the delicious irony!
The epilogue goes on to examine the concept of liberty and the implications of it being completely upturned after the war. Absolutely fascinating stuff!