Book Review of Breakfast Of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 5/3/08
Why ruin a Vonnegut review with a plot summary? Could I possibly? For those who are wondering, Vonnegut is definitely an acquired taste. [“The use of the identical expression as the title for this book is not intended to indicate an association with or sponsorship by General Mills, nor is it intended to disparage their fine products”]. A taste that happens to soothe my buds just fine. Ok, I am being cheeky. Breakfast of Champions tells the story of sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout (many who have called this character Vonnegut’s “alter ego”) and Dwayne Hoover the auto dealer.
Unfortunately Kilgore Trout is the type of writer that no one has heard of and Dwayne Hoover is the auto dealer everyone in town considers “fabulously well to do” with the only problem that he is slowly slipping into insanity and not to mention that his son, Bunny, is a homosexual. (Hoover’s insanity sort of reminds me a bit of Eliot Rosewater and speaking of Mr. Rosewater, he too is mentioned in the book).
This book serves more as a commentary on the American way of life, and Vonnegut does this with his sarcastic wit and satire. He touches upon feminism, racism, conformity, stupidity, insanity, etc. And speaking of which, “etc.” is something you can find throughout this novel.
And so on.
Here is a great snippet:
Patty Keene was stupid on purpose, which was the case with most women
in Midland City. The women all had big minds because they were big animals, but
they did not use them much for this reason: unusual ideas could make enemies,
and the women, if they were going to achieve any sort of comfort and safety,
needed all the friends they could get.
So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.
The novel is full of little morsels of wit as these that just about sums it all up perfectly. In fact, while reading, I had wondered if Vonnegut had been reading my mind all along.
Throughout the book we are also given glimpses into Trout’s sci-fi characters and all their weirdness.
All of us were stuck to the surface of a ball, incidentally.
The planet was ball-shaped. Nobody knew why we didn’t fall off, even though
everybody pretended to kind of understand it.
The really smart people understood that one of the best ways to get rich was to own a part of the surface people had to stick to.
On the surface the book is very entertaining and seemingly light and very funny, yet beneath one can find his recurring insights and sharp social satire. The book is also larded with his famous styled drawings, none of which can be reproduced for this review, unfortunately.
We also learn of all the penis measurements for all the male characters as well as the hips and bust sizes for the female. Obviously this was something important or else Vonnegut would not have included them. [Insert pontificating analysis regarding the limits of the human mind in relation to human sexuality…or something].
I’ll ask, where else can readers find these sorts of tidbits about their leading literary characters? Certainly not in a Henry James novel (not that there is anything wrong with Henry James—yet I can’t say I’ve ever learned the sizes of his male characters’ anatomy).
Having said that, reading a Vonnegut novel is an experience unto itself and so I find it difficult to summarize. Yet I believe it is something that any lover of literature should behold, embrace, inhale, or whatever verb you wish to use.
I recommend Breakfast of Champions even if it is not your taste [“the use of the identical expression as the title for this book is not intended to indicate an association with or sponsorship by General Mills, nor is it intended to disparage their fine products.”] and even if it requires you getting drunk on “yeast excrement” beforehand.
(Note: if you read the book you’ll get it). And so on.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice website.]
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