I finally read Slaughterhouse-Five. Anyone who has harassed me about it can now get off my back. I do see what all the fuss is about, though, and in retrospect I’m glad to have been pestered.
Billy Pilgrim learns a lot of great things from the aliens who abduct him, perhaps the greatest being the circular, seamless and holistic nature of time that we fatalistic humans will never understand (myself especially, though I wish to). This temporal reality in which they live is reflected in the many layered novels they enjoy – far more complex than our simple words-on-a-page storybooks; a Tralfamadorian novel is a thoughtful collection of messages.
There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.
I like to think of one of their novels as the collective of one person’s reading choices over a lifetime. Do we not, after all, read one book to see the marvelous moments crafted therein? An image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep? We may not be able to see all these moments at once, but instead maintain the patience and interest to see one moment at a time, one word, one page, one chapter, one book, until everything has been stored away in our mental catalog, waiting there to serve that relentless human need for meaning, purpose and connections. After a lifetime of reading, surviving and watching the world spin and tumble around us, we can look on the many marvelous moments that have become our consciousness and take a sigh of solemn gratitude because it is – it will be – beautiful and surprising and deep.