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Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of Champions (original 1973; edition 1973)

by Kurt Vonnegut

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12,370114201 (4)192
Title:Breakfast of Champions
Authors:Kurt Vonnegut
Info:Cape, Jonathan (1973), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

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Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (1973)


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Kilgore Trout is a widely published, but unknown writer who is invited to deliver a keynote address at a local arts festival in distant Midland City. Dwayne Hoover is a wealthy businessman who owns much of Midland City. Unfortunately Dwayne is mentally unstable and is undergoing a gradual mental collapse. Kilgore arrives in Midland City and, by happenstance, piques the interest of Dwayne. A confused Dwayne demands a message from Kilgore, who hands over a copy of his novel. Dwayne reads the novel, which purports to be a message from the Creator of the Universe explaining that the reader - in this case Dwayne - is the only individual in the universe with free will. Everyone else is a robot. Dwayne believes the novel to be factual and immediately goes on a violent rampage, severely beating his son, his lover, and nine other people before being taken into custody.

Kilgore has published dozens of novels and scores of short stories, but remains entirely unknown. His fiction has generally been used as filler material to pad the length of pornographic books and magazines. Strangely, Kilgore receives an unlikely invitation to speak at the Midland City arts festival. Kilgore decides to speak at the festival to represent unknown, failed and desperate writers. He intends to deliver a stinging rebuke full of bitter commentary to what he imagines will be a crowd of effete patrons of the arts. Using the funds advanced to him by the festival organizer, Kilgore sets out on a long trek to the Mid-West. Kilgore hitchhikes across the country to save money. He tries to sleep in an adult film theater to avoid renting a hotel room, but he is evicted in the early morning hours when the theater closes. Kilgore is then robbed and beat up and ends up spending the night in police custody. Nearly completely destitute, he continues his westward voyage.

Meanwhile Dwayne Hoover, an affluent citizen of Midland City, suffers the final stages of a mental breakdown. Dwayne's adult son has disappointed him and his wife's suicide has left him a widower. He runs an automobile dealership, owns an interest in most Midland City businesses and carries on a discreet monogamous affair with his secretary. But he also continues to go gradually insane due to a chemical imbalance, even as other Midland City residents approach him for various forms of financial assistance. Dwayne moves through Midland City and observes or recalls many trivial details about his earlier life.

After a long trip full of trivial details, Kilgore eventually reaches Midland City and enters a hotel lounge where he reviews some arts festival registration materials. By strange coincidence, nearly every other character presented in the novel is simultaneously either inside the same hotel lounge or at least nearby. Dwayne sits in the same lounge, mesmerized by Kilgore's shirt, which glows under the lounge's fluorescent lights. Dwayne suddenly lurches to his feet and demands a message from Kilgore. Kilgore furnishes a copy of one of his novels and Dwayne eagerly and quickly reads the book. Dwayne interprets the book to mean that he, Dwayne, is the only thinking, free-willed being in the universe. Everyone else is simply a robot programmed for Dwayne's amusement. He immediately sets out on a violent rampage, severely beating his son, his lover, and nine other characters. ( )
  bostonwendym | Aug 26, 2016 |
I hated this book. It made no sense. I have no idea what it was about. It is a literary Seinfeld. ( )
1 vote Sheila1957 | Aug 25, 2016 |
Thus far one of the best discoveries of reading through the 1001 book list is Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions is written in his signature style of short simple sentences. My take away from this book was concerns about mechanistic explanations for humanity and how much (if any) free-will the majority of us have. ( )
  kale.dyer | Jul 27, 2016 |
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is mainly a vehicle to showcase Kurt Vonnegut’s uniquely gentle satirical style. The plot is chaotic and pretty silly—in his preface, he tells the reader that the novel is “a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast”; the setting is hopelessly mundane and depressing—Midland City; the characters are deeply flawed and mostly recycled from previous works; and the narrative is filled with asides and crude drawings that seem cute but unnecessary. As my aside, Vonnegut once advocated for the elimination of the semi-colon, a convention I obviously have trouble adhering to.

So why are people attracted to this work? Mainly it is because of Vonnegut’s narrative voice. His worldview was often quite pessimistic, but his observations were always refreshing, spot on and unfailingly amiable. He addressed most of the absurdities and evils of American culture with characteristic deadpan humor. One can’t help but wonder what he would have made of the bizarre presidential campaign of 2016. Clearly, 50 years later, people seem to be waking up to some of the things that bothered Vonnegut in the 70’s, but whether we are up to the task of changing them seems to be doubtful.

There are far too many examples in the novel of Vonnegut’s jaundiced but accurate perceptions to cite them in any detail. You need to just let them flow over you as you read. Invariably, these observations provoke smiles, laughter and frequently downright awe. His scope was indeed prodigious, including racism, corporate greed, inequality, war, environmental degradation, materialism, sex, mental health, politics, history as myth, futility, derangement, free will, the inadequacy of fiction as a vehicle for change, and so it goes.

Vonnegut uses a hopeful metaphor of mirrors as “leaks” to a more rational reality. Notwithstanding his pessimistic view of our current reality as a bizarre wonderland, not unlike what Alice found on the other side of her looking glass, Vonnegut seemed to persist in a belief that kindness to other humans can be redemptive. ( )
  ozzer | Apr 14, 2016 |
Absolutely fantastic! Possibly my favorite Vonnegut. Brilliantly written, but sad in a way only Vonnegut can put it on paper.
  bartt95 | Apr 10, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kurt Vonnegutprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Malkovich, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salu, MichaelCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When he hath tried me,
I shall come forth as gold.
In Memory of Phoebe Hurty,,
who comforted me in Indianapolis--
during the Great Depression
First words
This is the tale of a meeting of two lonely, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.
Roses are red and ready for plucking; you’re sixteen and ready for high school.
Here is a picture of a wide open beaver.
Sometimes I wonder about the creator of the universe.
The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.
New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
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The author questions the condition of modern man in this novel depicting a science fiction writer's struggle to find peace and sanity in the world.

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