breakfastIn case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd.  How big a nerd? Well, remember those summer reading lists from when you were a kid? I’ve assigned myself one and it’s a doozy.  I want to be able to say by the end of August that I’ve read all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  I subtracted the few that I’d gotten and am crossing the rest off one by one.  I’ll post reviews as I go and you can track my overall progress here.

So here we are at the halfway point.  After finishing this, I’ve now read seven of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels with another seven to go.  And it’s kind of fitting that Breakfast of Champions is that midway point.  In the introduction, Vonnegut calls this novel “my fiftieth-birthday present to myself” and an attempt “to clear my head of all the junk there.”   He also playful muses and riffs on copyright laws and the book’s title, which is derived from the old slogan for Wheaties—from then on we know that Vonnegut is at his wittiest (or at least trying his best to channel it). Every Vonnegut fanatic I’ve ever encountered has claimed this to be their favorite.  So you can understand why I had such high hopes for this novel….and it just didn’t do it for me.

One of the goals of the novel, which Vonnegut lays out in his rambling introduction, is to purge himself of certain characters he’s accumulated over the years.  In that vein, the story centers on fan favorite Kilgore Trout, who made appearances in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Slaughterhouse-Five (from what I understand he pops up in others, but I’ve yet to read them).  In my post reviewing God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, I described Trout as a “pornographic science-fiction writer” and I feel have to clarify what I meant.  It’s not that what he writes is salacious or offensive, it’s just that his writing is only published in porn magazines.  Trout’s entire library of work is bound in magazines that feature pictures of women either exposing themselves or engaged in sexual acts, even though they don’t relate in any way to what he writes about.

The plot revolves around Trout’s invitation to speak at Midland City’s Arts Festival (he was recommend to the chairman of the festival by Eliot Rosewater, the main character from God Bless, Mr. Rosewater and Trout’s number one fan) and upon reaching Midland City, located somewhere in the Midwest, his meeting of Dwayne Hoover, a wealthy businessman/car dealer who is going insane.  Their encounter and its aftermath are heavily foreshadowed and referenced as the story cuts between Trout traveling through America and Hoover descending into madness with various tangents that include the back stories of Midland residents and other secondary characters, summaries of Trout’s novels and stories, and Hoover’s delusions.  All this leads to a postmodern ending, breaking the fourth wall, that seems more forced than cathartic.

I couldn’t help but have the impression that Vonnegut was given too much leeway on this book and could have benefited from an editor reining him in.  Then again how does one tell a literary legend that he can’t include felt-tip pen illustrations of an anus or vagina in his book?  But God damn it, no matter what I say, Vonnegut makes it work.  He somehow makes  a narrative that’s been cut apart and sewn together flow smoothly and there are some really beautiful moments.  But it doesn’t all pack the same punch in the end like Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, or even Sirens of Titan, and that’s the most heartbreaking thing of it all.  It’s not a bad book, I just expected more than it delivered.

[Pic via Amazon.com]

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