REVIEWED BY KRISTINA MORICONI
Upon initial glance, this first title in the Bookmarked series, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five by Curtis Smith, led me to believe I might be reviewing a book that was a review of another book. But it didn’t take long at all for me to realize that Curtis Smith had gone far beyond a review of Vonnegut’s timeless classic; he had, in fact, dug much deeper, explored and examined. He had inhabited the pages, made parts of it his own, in a way that resurrected this book for me, nudged me to my own bookshelf to reread the copy I’d held onto from high school. Back then, it had been required reading. Now, thanks to Smith, it has become a meaningful place on my literary map.
Curtis Smith has taken readers on a journey from Vonnegut’s dark streets of Dresden amidst the shadows of war to his own contemplative life inside bookstores and libraries, at home with his family and on the campus where he teaches. His book is a tapestry of sorts, a weaving together of lives and loves and losses. Two men in very different time periods writing from a place of honesty and urgency.
“Vonnegut had to write about Dresden, and I’ve got to believe even when he wasn’t writing about Dresden, he was still writing about Dresden. What other choice did he have? How could one ever stop the continual surfacing of such memories?” In a similar way, Smith felt he had to write about Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. This book changed him, left him with a need to connect with Vonnegut as a writer and a human being, to relate and respond. “Vonnegut’s voice—humane, sardonic, honest—threads the roots of what calls me. I can’t—nor want to—write like him, but I can’t deny his presence, and for that, I’m a better artist.”
Smith has provided readers with glimpses into Vonnegut’s life and work; he’s quoted and referenced, he has opened windows to let us see in. Smith’s held up a mirror: man, husband, father, teacher, writer, all reflected in the way he regards and honors the experiences and the writing of Kurt Vonnegut.
The narrative moves from past to present, from Vonnegut to Smith, from war to wondering, from history to nostalgia—segments separated by asterisks, each one a kind of leap. Like Slaughterhouse-Five, Smith’s structure is divided into sections. “Some are just a paragraph or brief conversation…think of each section as a frame, an outline for a moment observed, each a picture. Of pain. Of truth. Of humor…”
“I am grateful to have returned to Slaughterhouse-Five,” Smith writes on the penultimate page of his book.
I am thankful to have revisited Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, to have the chance to re-imagine his suffering and to see more clearly through the eyes of an adult the brutality of war.
“The best books are invitations,” Smith writes of Slaughterhouse-Five. I could write the same of Curtis Smith’s contribution to the Bookmarked series. Consider yourself invited.
Kristina Moriconi is a poet and essayist. She is the author of the chapbook, No Such Place (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her work has appeared most recently in Cobalt Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Crab Creek Review, and is forthcoming in december. In 2014, she was named the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Poet Laureate. She lives and teaches now in suburban Philadelphia where she co-founded and now helps to sustain the nonprofit, Men Anpil (Many Hands), working to help educate Haitian students who will ultimately become medical professionals in their country.