Breakfast of Champions- Kurt Vonnegut

Whenever I complained to my husband about being bored with what I was reading, he told me I needed to read some Vonnegut (his favorite novelist) and gave me Breakfast of Champions to start with.  I had tried reading Vonnegut in the past and found it a little too weird for my tastes, but Breakfast of Champions, while weird, ended up being interesting and quite enjoyable.

The story: Kilgore Trout, a writer, has a run-in with an insane car dealer who takes Trout’s fiction literally; the car dealer comes unhinged and injures a bunch of people.  This is really a book you enjoy for the writing, more than the story, though.  Vonnegut writes like he is talking to someone from another planet, defining ideas, places, things, and people simply (with drawings!) and wryly.  For example, “A lamb was a young animal which was legendary for sleeping well on the planet Earth.”  Or “He was a graduate of West Point, which is military academy that turns young men into homicidal maniacs for use in war.”  Or “Fucking was how babies were made.”  This manner of speaking allows him to point out the absurdity of some things and to criticize others and makes the book really easy to read.  No dense language here.

But there are some pretty dense concepts here in terms of Vonnegut’s deconstruction of his own narrative.  He talks about how stories have beginnings, middles, and ends, but real life isn’t that neatly organized.  Real life is, in fact, chaotic, often senseless, and lacks an ending.  Vonnegut emphasizes this point by having a character commit acts of senseless violence and ending the book (and several chapters) with the word “etc.”  The senselessness and chaos continue even after the book and story end.  Vonnegut also inserts himself into the narrative towards the end of the book, which serves to further highlight the constructed nature of his story.

And there is one point where an artist in the story explains his minimalist painting to a bar full of people and when it is explained to them, they get it and suddenly decide they like the painting they were complaining about before.  Vonnegut pretty clearly spells out what he is getting at in this book and, appropriately I guess, I liked it more because of that.  Vonnegut doesn’t really seem stuffy or pretentious, so I don’t think he is making fun of his reader here (though I considered it) so much as trying to criticize artists (including writers) who create abstract or minimalist art without explaining it or providing context.

I really enjoyed this step outside my comfort zone.  I think I will try to read Cat’s Cradle at some point, as my husband says that’s his favorite Vonnegut.  If you enjoy satire or an author who plays with and deconstructs the narrative form, you will like this book.  It is rather gentle as far as either of those things go, too, so I can see this as being appropriate for readers wanting to see if Vonnegut is for them or wanting to try something a little different (like I did).  I am going to end this review appropriately, by saying simply, etc.