By my count in chapters 4-6 “so it goes” appears 31 times, after death in some form is mentioned about humans, animals (including lice, bacteria, & fleas), things (champagne, water, a picture), and the “whole Universe.”
And suddenly ol’ Eliot “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” pops up in the story. I would have been just as happy if Eliot had died & the good folks of Rosewater County had gained their promised inheritance at the end of God Bless You…. So it goes indeed!
I really liked this bit in Chapter 5, which is like the author holding up a sign and pointing: “Look! This is what I’m trying to do here!”
“There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when read all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and has 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 all at one time.”
I loved that passage, too, Bill. He mentions “clumps of symbols with three dots in between them”.. and of course this is how the book is laid out, with three dots between each passage. He’s written the book just as the Trafalmadorians see time. I remember when I read this as a boy I thought every instance of him becoming “unstuck in time” was literal–that he was actually time traveling. Reading it now it’s so much clearer that this is just the view of time as a series of moments that have always happened and are always here.
I also noticed, as The Old Man did, the preponderance of “so it goes”—and laughed that he extended to things like a bottle of champagne.
Finally, the moments when he explicitly inserts himself into the scenes, usually after a particularly awful scene in Dresden that Billy is witnessing, really hit me hard as Vonnegut reminding us that behind the “fiction” this is real, this happened, this happened to him.
That passage that Bill quotes jumped out at me too. To analogize to the art world, KV is sort of fusing Impressionism with Cubism. Light and dark impressions (insights) in a non-linear, multi-perspective structure in which everything happens at once/always. It takes some time to grok it. Works well in this book.
I find the mixture of current narrative, inserted stories and dreams, mixed with flashbacks and leaps forward, very disorienting. I’ve tried rereading some chapters, but still find my mind spinning, unable to create a coherent plot line from the random scenes. It makes me experience what being driven crazy must be like. No doubt this is how KV wanted to make us feel.
It’s not as if he didn’t give us early warning. In the intro, a couple of pages before the end of Chapter 1, he apologizes to his sponsor about the structure of the book…”It is so short and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.”
It was previously noted that KV struggled with depression, and that it sometimes seemed to have impacted his work. I was struck by his saying, at the end of the audio interview I posted last week, that a psychiatrist who treated veterans had written him that he saw signs of post-traumatic stress in Vonnegut’s writing. Many of his characters are certifiably insane, and there is evidence that Vonnegut too, wasn’t always in full control of his thoughts and emotions. Perhaps this book intends to let us experience his jangled state of mind….and to jumble our own. Works on me.
Buried in the bigger images are specific details that KV must have inserted for a purpose that isn’t always obvious. One example, a page before the end of Chapter 3 (p. 391 in the American Library edition) is the detail that the locomotive and last car of each prisoner train were “marked with a striped banner of orange and black,” indicating to airplanes that the trains carried prisoners of war. A few pages later, at the beginning of Chapter 4, we learn that the tent in which his daughter had been married was “gaily striped….orange and black.” This graphic link between prisoner trains and the wedding tent can’t be random….orange and black striped tents might be suitable for a Halloween party, but not for a wedding….but why does Vonnegut make that odd connection? Are marriages are transporting people to some form of prison? No, the best I can make of this peculiar connection is that it reveals the intrusive persistence of disturbing war memories in the post-war minds of veterans. It’s a tiny flashback hallucination….it’s crazy, just like the war experience, and many of the veterans. And this book.