The Writer’s Crusade

This week's review examines Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, providing a literary critique of the novel through the lens of Vonnegut's PTSD as a combat-veteran

The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five

Roston, Tom. Abrams, 2021
272p bibl index, 9781419744891 $26.00, 9781683359241

The Writer's Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five book cover. Black and white image of Kurt Vonnegut typing on a typewriter while smoking. Above his head is "THE WRITER'S CRUSADE" written in yellow against a red backgroud. Across Kurt's chest is "KURT VONNEGUT AND THE LIVES OF SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE" written in white.

Everyone should read this book, both those who are big fans of Vonnegut (1922–2007) and those who find him flippant and confusing. The Writer’s Crusade makes a lot of sense. An over-simplified explanation of Roston’s thesis is that Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s famous antiwar novel, is haunted by Vonnegut’s struggles to address his war experiences as a POW during the Allied bombing of Dresden in February, March, and April 1945. Those efforts and the resulting novel are similarly haunted by what is now known as PTSD. Roston makes his own conclusions clear but leaves room for readers to differ. The book is remarkably readable for literary criticism, well researched but not stuffy, personable but still vigorous. Roston spoke with family, friends, psychiatrists, and Vonnegut scholars; read all of Vonnegut’s public statements and writings on the subject as well as unpublished materials; examined the realistic characters and storylines in the novel and also the “speculative” or fantastic elements that break up the grim narrative of the Dresden experiences; and consulted with other combat-veteran writers with their own PTSD struggles. The result is a remarkable, solid, compelling achievement.

Summing Up: Essential. All readership levels.
Reviewer: J. A. Zoller, emeritus, Houghton College
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – English & American
Choice Issue: Dec 2022

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