Book Review: Breakfast of Champions

I had read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut a while back and liked it well enough, so I thought I’d try something else out. Breakfast of Champions, a story about the fateful meeting between an eccentric science fiction writer and a half (and eventually completely) crazy car salesman, may not have been the best choice.

On the one hand, I like Vonnegut’s sense of humor. It’s very droll, very piercing, and it often makes you think. He can skewer concepts like patriotism, entertainment, sexuality, and self-absorbed aggrandizement with just a few words, and it’s often fun to watch him work. He’s a funny guy, even if it’s not always in the laugh out loud way. On the other hand, Breakfast of Champions is kind of a mess. It’s got next to no structure, so I’m not even sure if I should call it a novel. Vonnegut just kind of ambles from one subject to the next, often breaking off into bizarre summaries of author Kilgore Trout’s infamously bad science fiction novels. There’s only the barest narrative about Trout’s being invited to speak at a awards ceremony where he accidentally nudges car dealer Dwayne Hoover off the last of his sanity.

The whole book really feels like Vonnegut is just doodling, both with words and with an actual felt tip pen. The whole book is sprinkled with crude little illustrations, featuring everything from birds to dinosaurs to “wide open beavers.” I’ll let your imagination roam over that last one on it’s own. So by the end I was kind of bemused by the whole thing, but left feeling like I haven’t so much read a novel as sat through an extended session of babbling by Grampa Simpson. I kept expecting Vonnegut to exclaim “We wore an onion on our belt! It was the fashion at the time…”

So, I think there’s probably better Vonnegut out there. Breakfast of Champions is pretty self-indulgent, but maybe I’ll try something else out before I write him off.

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