En route to Tralfamadore, Billy asks for something to read. The only human novel is Valley of the Dolls, and when Billy asks for a Tralfamadorian novel, he learns that the aliens’ novels are slim, sleek volumes. Because they have a different concept of time, Tralfamadorians have novels arranged by juxtaposition of marvelous moments. The books have no cause or effect or chronology; their beauty is in the arrangement of events meant to be read simultaneously. Billy jumps in time to a visit to the Grand Canyon taken when he was twelve years old. He is terrified of the canyon. His mother touches him and he wets his pants. He jumps forward in time just ten days, to later in the same vacation. He is visiting Carlsbad Caverns. The ranger turns the lights off, so that the tourists can experience total darkness. But Billy sees a light nearby: the radium dial of his father’s watch.
Billy jumps back to the war. The Germans think Billy is one of the funniest creatures they’ve seen in all of the war. His coat is preposterously small, and on his already awkward body it looks ridiculous. The Americans give their names and serial numbers so that they can be reported to the Red Cross, and then they are marched to sheds occupied by middle-aged British POWs. The British welcome them with singing. These British POWs are officers, some of the first Brits taken prisoner in the war. They have been prisoners for four years. Due to a clerical error early in the war, the Red Cross shipped them an incredible surplus of food, which they have hoarded cleverly. Consequently, they are some of the best-fed people in Europe. Their German captors adore them. To prepare for their American guests, the Brits have cleaned and set out party favors. Candles and soap, supplied by the Germans, are plentiful: the British do not know that these items are made from the bodies of Holocaust victims. They have prepared a huge dinner and a dramatic adaptation of Cinderella. Billy is so unhinged that his laughter at the performance becomes hysterical shrieking, and he is taken to the hospital and doped up on morphine. Edgar Derby watches over him, reading The Red Badge of Courage. He leaps in time to the mental ward where he recovered in 1948.
In the mental ward, Billy’s bed is next to the bed of Elliot Rosewater. Like Billy, he has little love for life, in part because of things he saw and did in the war. He is the man who introduces Billy to the science fiction of Kilgore Trout. Billy is enduring one of his mother’s dreaded visits. She is a simple, religious woman. She makes Billy feel worse just by being there. Billy leaps back in time to the POW camp. A British colonel talks to Derby; after the newly arrived Americans shaved, the British were shocked by how young they all were. Derby tells of how he was captured: the Americans were pushed back into a forest, and the Germans rained shells on them until they surrendered.
Billy leaps back to the hospital. He is being visited by his ugly, overweight fiancée Valencia. He knew he was going crazy when he proposed to her. He does not want to marry her. She is visiting now, eating a Three Musketeers bar and wearing a diamond engagement ring that Billy found while in Germany. Elliot tells her about The Gospel from Outer Space, a Kilgore Trout book. Valencia tries to talk to Billy about plans for their wedding and marriage, but he is not too involved. He leaps forward in time to the zoo on Tralfamadore, where he was on display when he was forty-four years old. The habitat is furnished with Sears and Roebuck furniture. He is naked. He answers questions posed by the Tralfamadorian tourists. He learns that there are five sexes among the Tralfamadorians, but the sex difference is only visible in the fourth dimension. On earth there are actually seven sexes, all necessary to the production of children; earthlings just do not notice the sex difference between themselves because many of the sex acts occur in the fourth dimension. These ideas baffle Billy, and they in turn are baffled by his linear concept of time. Billy expects the Tralfamadorians to be concerned about or horrified by the wars on earth. He worries that earthlings will eventually threaten all the other races in the galaxy, causing the eventual destruction of the universe. The Tralfamadorians put their hands over their eyes, which lets Billy know that he is being stupid. The Tralfamadorians already know how the universe will end: during experiments with a new fuel, one of their test pilots pushes a button and the entire universe will disappear. They cannot prevent it. It has always happened that way. Billy correctly concludes that trying to prevent wars on Earth is futile. The Tralfamadorians also have wars, but they choose to ignore them. They spend their time looking at the pleasant moments rather than the unpleasant ones; they suggest that humans learn to do the same.
Billy leaps back in time to his wedding night. It is six months after his release from the mental ward. The narrator reminds us that Valencia and her father are very rich, and Billy will benefit greatly from his marriage to her. After they have sex, Valencia tries to ask Billy questions about the war. She wants a heroic war story, but Billy does not really respond to her. He has a crazy thought about the war, which Vonnegut says would make a good epitaph for Billy, and for the author, too: "Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt." He jumps in time to that night in the prison camp. Edgar Derby has fallen asleep. Billy, doped up still from the morphine, wanders out of the hospital shed. He snags himself on a barbed wire fence, and cannot extract himself until a Russian helps him. Billy never really says a word to the Russian. He wanders to the latrine, where the Americans are sick from the feasting. A long period without food followed by a feast almost always results in violent sickness. Among the sick Americans is a soldier complaining that he has shit his brains out. It is Vonnegut. Billy leaves, passing by three Englishmen who watch the Americans’ sickness with disgust. Billy jumps in time again, back to his wedding night. He and his wife are cozy in bed. He jumps in time again, to 1944. It is before he left for Europe; he is riding the train from South Carolina, where he was receiving his training, all the way back to Ilium for his father’s funeral.
We return to Billy’s morphine night in the POW camp. Paul Lazarro is carried into the hospital; while attempting to steal cigarettes from a sleeping British officer, he was beaten up. The officer is the one carrying him. Seeing now how puny Lazarro is, the officer feels guilty for hitting him so hard. But he is disgusted by the American POWs. A German soldier who adores the British officers comes in and apologizes for the inconvenience of hosting the Americans. He assures the Brits in the room that the Americans will soon be shipped off for forced labor in Dresden. The German officer reads propaganda materials written by Howard Campbell, Jr., a captured American who is now a Nazi. Campbell condemns the self-loathing of the American poor, the inequalities of America’s economic system, and the miserable behavior of American POWs. Billy falls asleep and wakes up in 1968, where his daughter Barbara is scolding him. Barbara notices the house is icy cold and goes to call the oil-burner man.
Billy leaps in time to the Tralfamadorian zoo, where Montana Wildhack, a motion picture star, has been brought in to mate with him. Initially unconscious, she wakes to find naked Billy and thousands of Tralfamadorians outside their habitat. They’re clapping. She screams. Eventually, though, she comes to love and trust Billy. After a week they’re sleeping together. He travels in time back to his bed in 1968. The oil-burner man has fixed the problem with the heater. Billy has just had a wet dream about Montana Wildhack. The next day, he returns to work. His assistants are surprised to see him, because they thought that he would never practice again. He has the first patient sent in, a boy whose father died in Vietnam. Billy tries to comfort the boy by telling him about the Tralfamadorian concept of time. The boy’s mother informs the receptionist that Billy is going crazy. Barbara comes to take him home, sick with worry about what how to deal with him.