The Hand of Time

"I think human beings are awful animals. Let's pack it in. Let's stop reproducing. We're wrecking the place," says the "Slaughterhouse-Five" author. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

NEW YORK

Time is moving backward in Kurt Vonnegut's living room. The writer perches on a sofa and grins.

It has been 36 years since he published "Slaughterhouse-Five," his breakthrough novel about a time-and-space traveler named Billy Pilgrim, the planet Tralfamadore and the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces during World War II. Vonnegut's guest has mentioned a passage in which Vonnegut describes the bombing of a German city unfolding in reverse.

"Oh, I've made a recording of that -- to music," he says. He unfolds his lean, 82-year-old frame, locates the CD, hits "play."

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backward from an airfield in England, the voice of a somewhat younger Vonnegut intones.

Sounds of rain and thunder fade into background jazz. A female vocalist wails along.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. . . .

The recorded Vonnegut keeps reading as women in factories dismantle those containers and separate their contents into harmless minerals for return to the ground. The present-day Vonnegut lights the cigarette he's been fondling for half an hour.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. . . .

Time travel seems to agree with him. Right now, he's looking pretty cheerful for a self-described "obviously unhappy" man.

* * *

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. has made a life's work of being unhappy with the world.


CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company