Tuesday, June 23, 2009

110. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

December 2007
History: Published in 1973.
Plot: The early chapters of the book introduce the two main characters: Kilgore Trout, a struggling science fiction writer, and Dwayne Hoover, an increasingly insane, but "fabulously well-to-do" car dealer. Kilgore receives an invitation to speak at a convention in Midland City.
Dwayne meanwhile is slowly going mad. He hallucinates, and his "bad chemicals" make him do many strange things. He insults his employees, making one of them think that Dwayne knows he is a secret transvestite. Many minor characters are introduced, most of whom have hidden links to other characters. Kilgore hitchhikes his way across the country and ends up in the bar at the same hotel as both the author and Dwayne.
The author points out the spiritual climax of the book: a snobbish painter explains his greatest work to the silent bar. The painting is of a single bright orange band on a huge green canvas. He explains that at the core of everything that exists can be found a shining bright line. A mother and her son, a father and his daughter, or two lovers: nothing but two shining, unwavering bands of light.
The author speaks of various fates that will befall the characters within the world he has created. Dwayne finally meets Kilgore, speed-reads one of Kilgore's science fiction books about the Creator of the Universe speaking to the only sentient being among a universe of robots, and, believing he is that one sentient being, everyone else is a machine, and that the Creator of the Universe is speaking to him, goes on a rampage. He attacks many people at the bar and bites the end off Kilgore's finger. They are all taken away in a large emergency vehicle.
After Kilgore is released from the hospital he is confronted by the author of the novel and has a few last things explained to him. The author tells Kilgore that he can send him anywhere in his past or future. The author then transports himself back to his own dimension as Kilgore shouts out in the author's father's voice: "Make me young!... Make me young!..."
Review: It is peppered with simple, childlike illustrations drawn by the author, and it tells a crazy-quilt story that eventually defies the constraints of the novel format itself. All of this seems to constitute an act of self-liberation, and it is: Vonnegut overhauling his creative world, breathing deeply and toying with the very nature of the novel.
The title echoes the claims of a well-known American breakfast cereal, and it crystallizes the irony of the author´s vision. Breakfast of Champions is one of his greatest successes, a freewheeling and hugely entertaining meditation on modern American life that draws in some definitive figures from the author´s imagination, such as the hapless sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout and the wealthy Elliot Rosewater, and finally the author himself. With a magic that contrasts the white-hot spell of his previous novel, Slaughterhouse Five -- and virtually deconstructs the novel itself -- Vonnegut´s Breakfast of Champions trips through American mindset of the early 1970s, its deadpan irony satirizing the party line on just about everything, from sex and racism to the Vietnam War and the meaning of the American dream.
One of Vonnegut´s most enduring creations, Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer who has not known much success as Breakfast of Champions begins. To his amazement, he is invited to the Midwest, to participate in the Festival of the Arts in Midland City, at the insistence of the crazy but wealthy Eliot Rosewater. Trout is on a collision course with one of Midland City´s more successful businessmen, a Pontiac dealer named Dwayne Hoover, who happens to be slipping into insanity (too many bad chemicals in his system). Reading a Trout story sends Hoover completely around the bend. The novel itself then follows him, as Vonnegut´s inquisitive imagination divines the freaky chaos beneath the careful surface of American life. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Nora Sayre noted that "in this novel Vonnegut is treating himself to a giant brain-flush, clearing his head by throwing out acquired ideas, and also liberating some of the characters from his previous books ... This explosive meditation ranks with Vonnegut´s best."
I listened to this book. I love the way he writes and it’s just so funny, that the ridiculous story doesn’t really matter you just have to take one paragraph at a time.
The story… well there is one but it’s not going to engage you much
Opening Line: “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome skinny fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”
Closing Line: “Make me young, make me young, make me young, etc. “
Quotes: “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become. “
Rating: Good

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