Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pilgrimage in Time (Book Review of Slaughterhouse Five) by Joseph DiLella

Is there any one amongst us that has never – even once – wished they could relive a moment in our past? I don’t see one hand raised – do you? Yet, if you could close your eyes and ‘wish’ yourself to another place at a former time and could do nothing to change it, would you even bother?

Time to all of us is linear. We are born, we die, and somewhere in between is where all the chocolatey goodness occurs. The high school prom, the first kiss, the wedding, the sports car, the first-born child; but along the way we also pick up emotional baggage: the passing of our guinea pig, the loss of a grandparent, a friend, a parent, a lover, our soul mate. As individuals, we are a collective timeline of both the best and worst of our lives and the lives of others in our neighborhood, our city, our state, our nation, and our world.

And none of us can change the direction of our paths, for time travel is only a notion, a wish, and a dream.

Unless of course, one can imagine a way a person could leave the room and circumnavigate one’s timeline without ever going . . . anywhere.

That is where books and TV shows come into play and allows us to let loose our collective consciousness, to raise the stakes and tap into our imagination.

But remember this: pretending isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be because if we were to travel to the past or future, would it truly be everything we could wish for, without a grim finality of it all?

For six incredibly puzzling years, LOST fans worldwide gave a collective ‘thank you’ to Kurt Vonnegut for his unforgettable character, Billy Pilgrim, and the lad’s uncanny ability to travel from one time to another, unstuck in time, thanks in part to his little green alien friends from Tralframadore, even though the time
travelling was only done in his mind.

Desmond Hume, the Scotsman with an unrequited love for Penelope Widmore, traveled off-island to a time in his life when he desperately hoped he could change his destiny and marry his beloved Penny. But like Desmond, Billy could not change his life or prevent the plane he and his father- in-law travelled in from hitting the top of a mountain. Both he and Desmond, too, were rendered helpless to change their pasts.

Though Mr. Hume did eventually marry his fair-haired woman, have a child and leave the island, his fate was destined. He had to return to the Island, aid Jack Sheppard to defeat the Man in Black and help his friends finally find each other in the afterlife.

Billy Pilgrim, if he truly time-travelled, ended up with a beautiful woman and a newborn, but put up in a cage for all the Tralframdorains to gawk at and point to during zoo hours. Yet neither character could escape their destiny – but both did find a way to pass the time by travelling from the past to the future, if only in their minds.

Kurt’s classic book, Slaughterhouse Five, is itself a travelogue of one man’s life touched by ordinariness, love, death and the unique ability to see one’s past and future all at the same time. For Vonnegut, the story was cathartic and allowed him to expose the time of his life he had avoided most as a storyteller – the war and his personal involvement in it, in all its glorious ugliness, destruction and hideousness.

Billy, the alien’s abductee, represented Kurt’s consciousness as it ping ponged from the current day malaise that often attacks a writer who simply cannot find the right plot to throw his imagination, to the moments he wished he could have been in another place at another time in his life.

In truth, Billy is Kurt. Both fictional hero and author became prisoners of war and are taken to Dresden a few days before firebombing that took over 150,000 lives – more deaths than either Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced under atomic attacks.

Both book character and POW ‘wished’ they could be anywhere but the war under brutal conditions that took the lives of their comrades and innocent civilians. Time travel – if only in the mind – was the vehicle of choice for Billy and Kurt.

Of all the books Vonnegut wrote, he gave himself an A+ for Slaughterhouse Five. Watching both Kurt ant Billy crisscross from the present to the past and back around to the future again shows us that life is not merely unidirectional, but rather a mosaic with tapestry weavings that intertwine us all with grief, joy,
exaltation and the ultimate destination we all must face.

Didn’t the Island’s Protector in LOST, Jacob, meet his violent end by the ever-scheming Benjamin Linus as he peaceably put the finishing touches on his life’s weaving? Guess he should have been sitting down with a good book, like Slaughterhouse Five, with his back to the wall . . . or did he simply realize his fate was already

Author bio:

After teaching in a southwest state-run university for five years, Joseph is finally back at home with his wife and 21 month old baby girl. Whether it is relaxing on the beach in southern California or juggling teaching gigs at San Diego State University and other universities, the author plans to take time writing poems and short stories while contemplating his navel and deciding on which direction he wishes his life to take for himself and his family.

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