Vonnegut Week: 'Breakfast of Champions'

April 19, 2024 – 08:55 pm

author thumbnailOn June 2 the Library of America published “Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973” (856 pages. $35), which includes four novels from his peak years. Recommended Reading is looking at each of the novels in turn this week.

Kurt Vonnegut knew that "Breakfast of Champions" (1973) was a problematic book. He gave it a C+ in his self-evaluation collected in "Palm Sunday."

"I am programmed at fifty to perform childishly, " Philboyd Studge, Vonnegut's narrator and thinly veiled stand-in, writes in the preface. And so Vonnegut does. In spots he sounds like an 11-year-old who just discovered how fun it was to say "penis" and "beaver" and "underpants" aloud, so he does it over and over.

Most significantly, when Vonnegut, or Studge, or whoever the author-narrator is, directly enters the book as a character in the latter half, it sags considerably, until a surge at the very ending.

Yet I suspect this flawed novel will be ready and enjoyed for years to come, because it also contains some of the best of Vonnegut. He may have been trying, as he wrote in the preface, "to clear my head of all the junk in there." But in the course of doing so, he wrote a remarkable novel about mental illness, satirized the ever-growing branding of American life, and made a few environmental points.

As he explains in Chapter 1, "Breakfast of Champions" is "a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." That would be businessman and Pontiac dealer Dwayne Hoover, "on the brink of going insane" and headed for a violent rampage, and Kilgore Trout, the prolific but unknown science fiction writer who shows up in other Vonnegut novels. Through the machinations of Eliot Rosewater, the millionaire who is Trout's only fan, the writer is invited to speak at the Midland City arts festival. Trout, as reluctant as the prophet Jonah to go, decides to deliver an angry in-your-face to the arts lovers.

Source: www.jsonline.com

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