Abrams examines the connection between Vonnegut's life and "Slaughterhouse-Five". Did Vonnegut suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Did Billy Pilgrim? Roston probes Vonnegut's work, his personal history, and discarded drafts of the novel, as well as original interviews with the writer's family, friends, scholars, psychologists, and other novelists.
... a multifaceted look at one of the great modern novels. It’s part history of how the book came to be, part Vonnegut biography, and a thoughtful consideration of the book’s impact on America’s post-WWII combat vets ... an important consideration of Kurt Vonnegut and the legacy of Slaughterhouse-Five. Even better, Roston’s work will send readers back to the original novel, and with fresh new insights on Vonnegut’s complex masterpiece.
This investigation, which animates much of Roston’s book, seems misguided ... Ultimately, Roston is happy to leave the question of Vonnegut’s PTSD unresolved, and this is one of the great strokes of the book, because he leaves open a trenchant bit of commentary not only on Vonnegut but on all of us. Roston wrote his book primarily in 2020, amid the pandemic, societal unrest and profound political dysfunction. Given PTSD’s broadening usage and definition, it could be said that it has become a diagnosis for everyone, and so Roston also shows us how — PTSD diagnosis or not — his hero Vonnegut succeeded in writing a book for everybody, one that remains unstuck in time.
Roston’s efforts are fruitful. He explores how the nature of war trauma has changed in the past century, with special attention to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who’ve channeled their experiences into fiction ... Roston’s byways into PTSD history and other writers' work can sometimes draw him a fair distance from Vonnegut, and the book’s central question remains unresolved. But he successfully reenergizes a major work from a writer whose star has faded somewhat. New wars, and more recent fiction about them, may have overshadowed Slaughterhouse-Five, but Roston persuasively shows how the novel speaks both to Vonnegut’s moment and to our own ... A rangy, occasionally rambling portrait of one of our stranger, more enduring war novels.