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breakfast of champions

It’s hard to altogether like or dislike Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut, 1973) because it’s such a disconnected mishmash.

I like that Vonnegut explicitly names himself as author, even to the point of placing himself in the action for one of his main characters to meet. I like that he identifies every new person in the novel by his or her skin color—“a white man,” “a black woman,” etc. I like that he uses phrases like “etc.” and “and so on” to show that life is bigger than anything he or anyone else can write, that life keeps on going despite the end of the words. I like that he articulates concerns about the United States—war, genocide, slavery, injustice, racism, pollution, corporate and consumer culture. It is comforting to know that many of the issues that plague me today were also disturbing people 35 years ago, that despite the feeling that they were going to hell in a hand basket, they survived; perhaps we will survive our era, as well.

I don’t like that Vonnegut’s prose is so self-consciously contrived to be not stylistic that it is becomes a style. I don’t like the book’s ending, which could be construed as boiling the whole story down to the quest for youth by the old. I don’t like the apparently hand-made drawings which litter the text, illustrating little if anything that couldn’t have been described in writing; I take it as another attempt at post-modern authorship, but one that fails to add to the book as a whole. I don’t like that the “story” has about as much tension as a clump of hair caught and dried in your shower drain.

I doubt that wholeness and unity were among Vonnegut’s goals for this text. Rather, in characteristic fashion, he has something to say about the world and our country and he tells you exactly what that is—along with a lot of other information, which may or may not be useful. In this way, I suppose, the book is like life. Not known for pulling his punches in other books, here he appears to throw his entire repertoire at once and without discrimination. When he hits, it is hard and true. Unfortunately, a large number of misses fly in our eyes, distracting the attention and diluting the message.

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1 Comment

  1. junebug says:

    In reference to V placing himself in the action for one of his main characters to meet, I also like that in some (I don’t know about all) movies based on his books, he made cameo appearances – Mother Night comes to mind.

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