Thoughts on writing and other afflictions...

December 24, 2015 – 08:53 pm

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
9/10, his trademark absurdist satire at its finest, or almost its finest.

I think every writer is tempted at one point or another to put himself (or herself) into his work. Once you reach a certain point in your writing career, you realize that this (a) has been done before; (b) is really hard to do well; (c) is fairly self-indulgent. Vonnegut, here, demonstrates a rare instance in which it is done well, and to excellent effect.

The nominal story of Breakfast of Champions is that of car salesman Dwayne Hoover, a recent widower who is afraid he is going insane, which is a perfectly reasonable fear, because he is. In this state, he meets science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, who gives him one of his books written as a letter from God to his only creation. Dwayne, in his insanity, takes the book as fact.

The story around the story is that of Vonnegut at his fiftieth birthday, remembering his father and looking at the world around him through his eyes and the eyes of his characters, bringing them together at the Midland Art Festival. He inserts himself as a character into the book, first as the narrator whose sardonic tone and opinion imbues every scene, and finally as an actual character in the narrative, seated in the cocktail lounge where Hoover and Trout have their fateful meeting.

There are several themes layered through "Breakfast of Champions, " which I am not going to be able to cover in one review after my first reading. Still: I had a discussion with a friend who felt that a major theme of the book was ethics in writing, how you have a responsibility around what you write and what people make of your work. I feel that's one of the themes, but for me, the major theme was in ethics toward your fellow man. At one point in the book, Vonnegut says he has become tired of the tyranny of the author, focusing a narrative on one character and one setting, when all the world is just as important as that one character. To that end, he makes frequent use of the phrase "and so on, " to indicate that life in all of his scenes goes on after the narrative has turned its eye from them (a semantic and syntactic echo of "Slaughterhouse Five"'s famous "So it goes"). He also talks about his characters and how although they are entirely his creations and do whatever he wants, when he is not paying attention to them, they do whatever they want.


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