Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review of "Breakfast of Champions" By Kurt Vonnegut

Oh, Vonnegut...

"Breakfast of Champions" left me torn. On one hand...

I found "Breakfast of Champions" to be an immature collection of rantings complete with illustrations. The frequent reference to assholes and "wide open beavers" that was at first necessary to set the dark tone for the book, quickly segued into something that would only captivate an adolescent (think "Catcher in the Rye"). Oh, he said beaver... tee-hee.

On the other hand...

I found "Breakfast of Champions" to be a autobiographical introspective, a tale of two characters, both extensions of Vonnegut, both seeking the answer to the question: "What is the meaning of Life?" Dwayne, a successful self-made man, seeks to know the significance of his own existence and suffers from the excuse of an "imbalance of chemicals in the brain".  Kilgore Trout, the second main character, is an impoverished author of many dark pessimistic writings who after living his life in obscurity happens to have the good fortune of catching the eye of a wealthy benefactor.  The two are at a crossroad headed in opposite directions.

We know that Vonnegut is personally invested in these characters because he shares similarities with both.  Dwayne, the champion of the free-enterprise American way of life, owned a auto-dealership and was a widower due to suicide.  Vonnegut operated a Saab dealership and lost his mother to suicide.  Trout is a free thinking, anti-establishment character that comes up in several of Vonnegut's writings ("God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater", "Slaughterhouse-Five", "Timequake") and is said to be based on Vonnegut contemporary and friend, Theodore Sturgeon. Vonnegut in life was an outspoken critic of war and conventional religion.  In the novel, Vonnegut writes himself into the story, casting himself as a somewhat biased observer who already knows the outcome of the narrative, but does not interfere.

"Breakfast of Champions" culminates with the meeting of Dwayne and Trout. Trout unknowingly supplies Dwayne with the/an answer to his question in one of his works - that basically, he can do no wrong because he is the only living being with the ability of "free will".  What is the meaning of his life?  For the world to revolve around Dwayne.  This fuels a destructive rampage in which Dwayne seeks harm or vengeance on half the town, because... there will be no consequences for the misdeeds of THE ONE.  "Breakfast of Champions", perhaps, is Vonnegut's parody of the egocentric nature of American society.

I give this book two stars out of five. One star because though it was an introspective narrative, it was not as entertaining as Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle".  And one star because it is better than "Catcher in the Rye", my baseline for over-hyped classics.

One final thought...

I can't help but think that Vonnegut is sitting under the shade of an ethereal oak somewhere, puffing on a cigarette, and having a laugh at our (my) expense, because he was paid to put in print the same things that many of us contemplate often, but can't seem to effectively relay to paper. But, I guess that is what makes him a writer, and me... not.

So, what is the meaning of life?

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