Every couple of years I re-read Breakfast of Champions, always thinking it couldn't be as good as I remember, each time being proven wrong. Invariably...moreEvery couple of years I re-read Breakfast of Champions, always thinking it couldn't be as good as I remember, each time being proven wrong. Invariably I discover it's actually better than I remember, my appreciation growing with age as I approach the work from a more experienced perspective. I've re-read this several times since a favorite uncle gifted this to me on Christmas when I was thirteen (I'm pushing thirty now), but each return is for a different reason, set in motion by a different thought or experience. There's always a moment that draws me back and makes me take Breakfast of Champions from its place of honor on my shelves, blow the dust off, and read it yet again.
There's a bar on College Ave in Indianapolis called the Red Key Tavern. Maybe you've heard of it even if you're not from the area: Kurt Vonnegut was at one time a regular there, notably writing and working on several of his novels while seated at the bar's tables. This past December, being already late for the family's Christmas Eve dinner and in no real hurry to get there, the aforementioned favorite uncle took me to the very same Red Key to have a beer and cigarette where one of my literary icons had once done his thing. (True story. Being from Indy has the occasional perk.) Perhaps it's silly, but as Vonnegut has been one of the greatest influences on my development as a fledgling writer, not to mention as a human being with the power of critical analysis, that was a memorable moment for me, and that moment triggered an itch to revisit the book that was my first introduction to Vonnegut's work.
That moment was also a strong catalyst for recommending this to a dear friend of mine. After doing so, I figured I better brush up on it before he and I get into any book-related discussions at the pub. And so it goes.
Vonnegut may not have thought so, it never earned his highest marks or total approval, but this is easily one of his best works. Personally it's my favorite, the first book of his I read but certainly not the last, containing some of his most cutting social commentary. The scribbled pictures are a laugh-out-loud bonus, memorable long after the exact words have faded away. Breakfast of Champions is full of the biting satire and dark humor he's known for, fusing together and using these pages to tackle much of the inanity of American culture.
At first the presentation seems jumbled to the point of chaos, seemingly unrelated cut scenes and informational asides following one after another, but as the story progresses, all those different threads gradually come together. Nothing is forgotten. All of it is important, if one can make the connections. Everything means something, as long as you're paying attention. You know how the story itself will end, Vonnegut tells you in the very beginning, so the focus isn't so much on that as it is on being aware. Just keep reading, the rewards are well worth it.
Others have complained about Vonnegut breaking the fourth wall in this book, first addressing the reader and referencing himself, later actually inserting himself into the plot. To me, however, this seemed a natural development in the course of the story, unusual but not out of place. There's an overarching theme about the Creator of the Universe, one of the many things that tie everything together, and in this context, as the book approaches its conclusion, who else could it possibly be? At the very least, Vonnegut uses the technique to interesting effect.
Besides, there's something comical, almost blasphemous, about the mental images when Vonnegut writes things like: "Trout had had a full day already, but it wasn't over yet. Now he saw his Creator leap completely over an automobile." The Creator of the Universe, controller of everything, vaulting over a car to escape a rabid dog? Go think about it for a minute, sort out all the contradictions there, and get back to me.
But to sum it all up: Breakfast of Champions is a brilliant, unflinching read that's searing in its portrayal of the world around us, and it's a classic that was written by a master. Basically, the whole thing is fucking brilliant. What more could you possibly want?(less)