Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut
There are a hell of alot of interesting things going on in Breakfast of Champions: a distinctive authorial style that challenges fictional conventions, insightful social commentary, and an exploration of the relationship between fiction and determinism. But because all these ideas are held together by a weak plot, the whole ends up being less than the parts.
The plot revolves around a science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, who has “doodley-squat”, and a Pontiac dealer, Dwayne Hoover, who is “fabulously well-to-do”. We are told that, in the future, the American Academy of Arts and Science will recognise Kilgore Trout as a great man for both his writing and his often hilarious insights, such as this:
“…we can build an unselfish society by devoting to unselfishness the frenzy we once devoted to gold and underpants.”
In the time period covered by the book, however, no one has heard of Kilgore trout, and his stories have only been published in porno magazines. He’s surprised, then, when he is invited to speak at the Midlands Arts festival by someone who thinks that he’s written the greatest novel in the English language.
Meanwhile, bad chemicals in Dwayne Hoover’s head are sending him insane. When he hears Kilgore Trout read one of his stories at the Arts Festival, it gives shape to his madness and he goes on a homicidal rampage.
That’s about all there is to the plot. Of course, there are a few more details. To get to Midland City, Kilgore Trout has to travel across an America sick with gross social inequality and environmentally degraded by the production of cheap consumables. Dwayne Hoover’s slide into insanity and its impact on those around him reveals the farcicalness of society and its conventions.
But Vonnegut tells us pretty much the whole plot in the second chapter, in a synopsis that is almost as short as the one above. As we near the climax, he quickens the pace of events by stating to the reader that he is quickening the pace. And when Dwayne finally the snaps, there are no surprises, making it distinctly anti-climactic. Thankfully, there is a thematic climax in the epilogue. But it’s not enough to make us feel like there was enough plot glue to hold it all together.
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