Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut is an equal opportunity offender. Published in 1973, Vonnegut scathingly satirizes society, art, religion, politics, and just people in general. I have to laugh imagining readers who don’t quite understand sarcasm getting red in the face with anger as they read Vonnegut’s barbs. Regardless of whether one is liberal, conservative or something else – he’s making fun of YOU!
A plot does exist in this story. Pontiac dealer Dwayne Hoover (what a 1970’s name!) wants to know the meaning of life so he heads to the Midland City Art Festival. Kilgore Trout, a (more or less) renowned author and recurring Vonnegut character, has been asked to speak at the festival – much to his surprise. The story revolves around these two characters separately traveling to the festival and the whacky characters they meet along the way.
I could talk about the profanities and obscenities that abound throughout the narrative in both word and pictures and how 90% of them are very tongue-in-cheek, but most readers are going to find them either funny or offensive – not much middle ground.
The sheer genius of this work, though, has nothing to do with what could potentially get this novel banned by less than free-thinking politicians. Vonnegut puts himself in his novel as a character, but it isn’t as a fictional character – it’s his real self. For much of the novel, he is sitting in the cocktail lounge of the Midland City Holiday Inn wearing mirror sunglasses. I don’t think any author has ever given me a more vivid picture. While he is sitting there, he contemplates what to do with his characters who are mingling at the bar or waiting on customers. Vonnegut does this in a beautifully seamless manner that has no hint of a gimmick. I won’t soon forget a scene like this:
And I sat there in the new Holiday Inn, and made it disappear, then appear again, then disappear, then appear again. Actually, there was nothing but a big open field there. A farmer had put it into rye.
It was high time, I thought, for Trout to meet Dwayne Hoover, for Dwayne to run amok.
I knew how this book would end. Dwayne would hurt a lot of people. He would bite off one joint of the right index finger of Kilgore Trout.
And then Trout, with his wound dressed, would walk out into the unfamiliar city. He would meet his Creator, who would explain everything.