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Breakfast of Champions
Cover of Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions
Borrow Borrow

Breakfast of Champions (1973) provides frantic, scattershot satire and a collage of Vonnegut's obsessions. His recurring cast of characters and American landscape was perhaps the most controversial of his canon; it was felt by many at the time to be a disappointing successor to Slaughterhouse-Five, which had made Vonnegut's literary reputation.

The core of the novel is Kilgore Trout, a familiar character very deliberately modeled on the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985), a fact which Vonnegut conceded frequently in interviews and which was based upon his own occasional relationship with Sturgeon. Here Kilgore Trout is an itinerant wandering from one science fiction convention to another; he intersects with the protagonist, Dwayne Hoover (one of Vonnegut's typically boosterish, lost and stupid mid-American characters) and their intersection is the excuse for the evocation of many others, familiar and unfamiliar, dredged from Vonnegut's gallery.

The central issue is concerned with intersecting and apposite views of reality, and much of the narrative is filtered through Trout who is neither certifiably insane nor a visionary writer but can pass for either depending upon Dwayne Hoover's (and Vonnegut's) view of the situation. America, when this novel was published, was in the throes of Nixon, Watergate and the unraveling of our intervention in Vietnam; the nation was beginning to fragment ideologically and geographically, and Vonnegut sought to cram all of this dysfunction (and a goofy, desperate kind of hope, the irrational comfort given through the genre of science fiction) into a sprawling narrative whose sense, if any, is situational, not conceptual.

Reviews were polarized; the novel was celebrated for its bizarre aspects, became the basis of a Bruce Willis movie adaptation whose reviews were not nearly so polarized. (Most critics hated it.) This novel in its freewheeling and deliberately fragmented sequentiality may be the quintessential Vonnegut novel, not necessarily his best, but the work which most truly embodies the range of his talent, cartooned alienation and despair.

Breakfast of Champions (1973) provides frantic, scattershot satire and a collage of Vonnegut's obsessions. His recurring cast of characters and American landscape was perhaps the most controversial of his canon; it was felt by many at the time to be a disappointing successor to Slaughterhouse-Five, which had made Vonnegut's literary reputation.

The core of the novel is Kilgore Trout, a familiar character very deliberately modeled on the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985), a fact which Vonnegut conceded frequently in interviews and which was based upon his own occasional relationship with Sturgeon. Here Kilgore Trout is an itinerant wandering from one science fiction convention to another; he intersects with the protagonist, Dwayne Hoover (one of Vonnegut's typically boosterish, lost and stupid mid-American characters) and their intersection is the excuse for the evocation of many others, familiar and unfamiliar, dredged from Vonnegut's gallery.

The central issue is concerned with intersecting and apposite views of reality, and much of the narrative is filtered through Trout who is neither certifiably insane nor a visionary writer but can pass for either depending upon Dwayne Hoover's (and Vonnegut's) view of the situation. America, when this novel was published, was in the throes of Nixon, Watergate and the unraveling of our intervention in Vietnam; the nation was beginning to fragment ideologically and geographically, and Vonnegut sought to cram all of this dysfunction (and a goofy, desperate kind of hope, the irrational comfort given through the genre of science fiction) into a sprawling narrative whose sense, if any, is situational, not conceptual.

Reviews were polarized; the novel was celebrated for its bizarre aspects, became the basis of a Bruce Willis movie adaptation whose reviews were not nearly so polarized. (Most critics hated it.) This novel in its freewheeling and deliberately fragmented sequentiality may be the quintessential Vonnegut novel, not necessarily his best, but the work which most truly embodies the range of his talent, cartooned alienation and despair.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1 This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast. One of them was a science-fiction writer named Kilgore Trout. He was a nobody at the time, and he supposed his life was over. He was mistaken. As a consequence of the meeting, he became one of the most beloved and respected human beings in history. The man he met was an automobile dealer, a Pontiac dealer named Dwayne Hoover. Dwayne Hoover was on the brink of going insane. Listen: Trout and Hoover were citizens of the United States of America, a country which was called America for short. This was their national anthem, which was pure balderdash, like so much they were expected to take seriously: O, say can you see by the dawn's early light What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? There were one quadrillion nations in the Universe, but the nation Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout belonged to was the only one with a national anthem which was gibberish sprinkled with question marks. Here is what their flag looked like: [Drawing in RosettaBook Not Displayed in Preview] It was the law of their nation, a law no other nation on the planet had about its flag, which said this: "The flag shall not be dipped to any person or thing." Flag-dipping was a form of friendly and respectful salute, which consisted of bringing the flag on a stick closer to the ground, then raising it up again. The motto of Dwayne Hoover's and Kilgore Trout's nation was this, which meant in a language nobody spoke anymore, Out of Many, One: "E pluribus unum." The undippable flag was a beauty, and the anthem and the vacant motto might not have mattered much, if it weren't for this: a lot of citizens were so ignored and cheated and insulted that they thought they might be in the wrong country, or even on the wrong planet, that some terrible mistake had been made. It might have comforted them some if their anthem and their motto had mentioned fairness or brotherhood or hope or happiness, had somehow welcomed them to the society and its real estate. If they studied their paper money for clues as to what their country was all about, they found, among a lot of other baroque trash, a picture of a truncated pyramid with a radiant eye on top of it, like this: Not even the President of the United States knew what that was all about. It was as though the country were saying to its citizens, "In nonsense is strength." A lot of the nonsense was the innocent result of playfulness on the part of the founding fathers of the nation of Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout. The founders were aristocrats, and they wished to show off their useless education, which consisted of the study of hocus-pocus from ancient times. They were bum poets as well. But some of the nonsense was evil, since it concealed great crimes. For example, teachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.
Synopsis-
  • Dwayne Hoover, a Midwestern automobile salesman, with a troubled marriage, meets Vonnegut's famous character, the hack writer, Kilgore Trout, on the eve of Trout's receiving the Nobel Prize. Filmed in 1998 with Bruce Willis, this is another of Vonnegut's savage satires of middle American values and their racketeering.
About the Author-
  • Hailed by Graham Greene as one of the best living American writers, Kurt Vonnegut is one of the definitive voices in American literature in the second half of the 20th century. Born in Indianapolis in 1922 and a veteran of World War II (Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse Five is his exact contemporary), he worked for General Electric before publishing his first story in 1950 and turning to writing full time. From the beginning, science fiction was an important element in Vonnegut's writing -- his early stories were published in science-fiction magazines -- though his work is in no way merely generic. A scathing and dark wit, a sly intelligence and a richly evolved sense of the absurd make Vonnegut's writing like no one else's. Doris Lessing called him one of the writers who map our landscapes for us, who gives names to the places we know best.

    Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano was published in 1952, and his novels, stories and essays began to appear regularly in the years that followed. It was the publication of The Sirens of Titan (1959) and, ultimately, Cat's Cradle (1963) that established Vonnegut as a major new writer with the general public, both in the U.S. and internationally. The appearance of Slaughterhouse Five six years later brought him an increasingly rare double distinction for a serious writer -- critical acclaim and bestselling success. Vonnegut's other notably titles include God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Welcome to the Monkey House; Breakfast of Champions; Slapstick; Jailbird; Deadeye Dick; and Hocus Pocus. Time magazine has described Kurt Vonnegut as George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer ... a zany but moral mad scientist.
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Breakfast of Champions
Kurt Vonnegut
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