'Slaughterhouse-Five' is Published

For those who have never slipped down any of the special rabbit holes Kurt Vonnegut has been boring into the decaying flesh of the American Novel, dropping hints about the plot of his new novel only serves to confuse.

This is Vonnegut's attempt to describe his feelings about the Allied fire bombing of Dresden, a singular act of senseless brutality in which 135,000 men, women and children were incinerated. (An act of war now generally considered to have been of no strategic value. Dresden, at the time, was an "open" city. One wonders who, inevitably, will be asked to support the guilt for such a deranged deed.)

Men seldom realize it, Kurt Vonnegut suggests in his latest novel, but they have more in common with rabbits than they like to think. Except that men forget on purpose, and are a prey to one another.

The occasion for these and other reflections is an agonizing, funny, profoundly rueful attempt by Vonnegut to handle in fable form his own memories of the strategically unnecessary Allied air raid on Dresden that killed 135,000 people. The book's narrator, like Vonnegut, lived through the raid as a prisoner of war in an underground slaughterhouse. Like Vonnegut, too, he has spent more than 20 years trying to mark out the limits of its metaphoric meaning in a book.