Unpopular Opinion: Slaughterhouse-Five is a Bad Novel

Randal Eldon Greene
5 min readMay 16, 2021

Unpopular Opinion: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is a bad novel. While taste is subjective when it comes to classics of all stripes, I found Slaughterhouse to be littered with problems from start to finish, from form to content.

The novel is the story of a man who unwillingly begins jumping through time. Well, sort of. The story of Billy Pilgrim, WWII veteran and optometrist, is actually revealed in the first section of the book to be the text of a novel by a narrator (perhaps Vonnegut himself). The up-front admission that henceforth all is fiction made it rather hard to care what happened to this fictional time traveler. While I’m one who cares almost absurdly for the fictitious people I read about, Vonnegut never managed to make me believe this was anything other than a novel.

Time Clock Head by Geralt — source: Pixabay

Our psychonautic time traveler is at some point abducted by aliens known as Tralfamadorians. This would be well and good if it added something to the book or brought some kind of clarity to the plot. It really does neither, nor does it seem that Vonnegut really knew what to do with this plot thread and so let it drop without much comment. The aliens seem to serve the purpose of elaborating on what we already know:

All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. . . . It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

This sums up the idea of the novel, and it comes just four pages into Billy Pilgrim’s story. The rest of the novel to follow elaborates this point to death. I would find the idea explored in the novel much more enjoyable had it not been spelled out so thoroughly just a few pages into the tale. The mental time traveling that Billy proceeds to do would itself suffice to paint this idea. We did not need the aliens, and we certainly didn’t need the theme spoon fed to us.

Randal Eldon Greene

Fiction writer and founder of the "Hello, Author" interview newsletter.📗 AuthorGreene.com