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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions
by Kurt Vonnegut
(4/5 stars)

In modern parlance, "Breakfast of Champions" is what would be called a meta-novel. It's largely a novel about writing a novel. Though since this is Vonnegut it's not about a guy sitting at a typewriter or anything that boring. It's more like in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when characters would go to the holodeck to interact with holographic representations of stories like Sherlock Holmes or noir detective Dixon Hill.

In this case the author is Philboyd Studge (a stand-in for Kurt Vonnegut) and the holodeck is set to Midland City, Indiana in 1972. The town is hosting a Festival of the Arts and the wealthy Eliot Rosewater (of the previous novel God Bless You Mr. Rosewater) contacts his favorite sci-fi author Kilgore Trout, featured in many other Vonnegut books. Trout is shocked anyone's actually read any of his books as his stories are mostly published in porno magazines as filler with the titles often changed. So Trout decides to go to New York City and then hitchhike to Indiana.

Meanwhile in Midland City is Dwayne Hoover, who owns a Pontiac dealership and several other businesses. By all accounts Dwayne has it pretty good, except his wife "ate" some Drano and died while his gay son works as a pianist in the Holiday Inn Hoover partially owns.

The lounge of the Holiday Inn is where Hoover and Trout are destined to meet and where Hoover is destined to lose what's left of his mind. Also in that lounge is Philboyd Studge, who has gathered his creations together to create a sort of creative Big Bang that will wipe out the old Philboyd Studge universe and create a new one.

In the preface, Studge writes about how now that he's turned 50 he wants to sort of clear the air and empty out all these old ideas and characters so that he can create new ones. Ironically though many of these same characters like Kilgore Trout appear in future novels by Vonnegut like "Deadeye Dick," "Bluebeard," and "Timequake." So if the point was to reboot the Vonnegut universe (to use modern comic book/movie slang) it didn't really succeed.

Like many Vonnegut novels, the characters are in no way realistic. Vonnegut via Trout actually takes "realistic" novels to task, claiming that we already know about real life, so why would we want fiction to duplicate that? (I agree in part with that idea. I mean, most of life is pretty boring, so why would I want that in a novel?) Like my colleague Ethan Cooper, I would agree that the characters are largely cartoonish throughout the novel. That didn't bother me too much, maybe because I watch too many cartoons on Fox and Adult Swim.

Throughout the novel Vonnegut includes silly drawing of everything from an anus to a bucket of fried chicken to the abbreviation ETC. The intent of these seems to be to serve as flashcards for a future audience where Earth no longer has apples or fried chicken, though you'd have to think they would still know what an anus looks like unless humanity has evolved beyond that point or superintelligent robots or cockroaches have taken over. Like Ethan Cooper, I found this device tiresome after a while as it didn't really seem to contribute much to the actual story.

Another thing is that this novel frequently uses the "N-word" and the depiction of most of the black characters in the book is pretty demeaning, especially the ex-con Wayne Hoobler. Though I like to think of it not as racist but as a satire to protest the economic segregation that is still largely prevalent in the 21st Century.

Overall, while the end may be a little disappointing, it is a heck of a ride to get there.

That is all.

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