69 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2000
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. has specialized in two types of novels. The first types are made up of sharp, witty tales that poke fun at humanity, while all the time keeping one eye on the plot. Both SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE and MOTHER NIGHT are sterling examples.
The second type of Vonnegut novel is awkward and unusual in the extreme, often leaving the reader dazed, thumping his or her head on the floor in a vain attempt at comprehension. They are enjoyable, but their precise meaning continues to elude. TIMEQUAKE is a fine example. BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is another.
BREAKFAST, to define some semblance of a plot, follows two main story threads. In the first, Vonnegut presents us with Dwayne Hoover, car-salesman extrordinaire, who is slowly and surely losing his mind. In the second, we have Vonnegut regular Kilgore Trout, the unemployed and unlikable science-fiction writer, who is hitch-hiking his way across the country to recieve a sizable award at an arts convention.
This is the plot, but Vonnegut adheres to it only in passing. In countless asides and divergences, Vonnegut explores sex, race, politics, sex, enviromental catastrophe, sex, aliens, robots, god, and sex. All this, plus numerous obscene doodles and an appearance from Vonnegut himself, bestowing wisdom upon his creations.
What, exactly, is Vonnegut trying to say? American culture is a vast wasteland of imbecility? People are generally self-centred and greedy, and above all, not nice? As a culture, America is doomed to die in its own sewage? The answer to all would seem to be yes. Vonnegut has often had a core of anger in his writings, and BREAKFAST is perhaps his angriest.
But BREAKFAST is not simply a gloomy discussion of the end of us all. Vonnegut is far too wise to dwell on man's foibles for long. He continues on his merry way, drawing our attention to this event and that one, all the while reminding us that perhaps Dwayne Hoover is correct: We ARE all robots, grinding our gears, fulfilling our functions, not considering any sorts of consequences.
An astonishing thing has just happened: While penning this review, I realized just how much I enjoyed the book. It was confusing, bizarre, and often irritating. But many of Vonnegut's themes have remained in my consciousness, continuing to dispense nuggets of thought to my often-addled brain. If that isn't the mark of a memorable novel, I don't know what is.
77 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Breakfast of Champions" follows the odyssey of oddball science fiction writer Kilgore Trout from his melancholy childhood in Bermuda, to the sleazy underside of New York City, and eventually to a fateful encounter with car dealer Wayne Hoover, a man "on the brink of going insane." Within this framework Vonnegut weaves an amazing satiric tapestry that looks at racism, mental illness, environmental crises, the nature and function of art, and many other issues. The book is filled with Vonnegut's own quirky illustrations.
"Breakfast" is harsh, even cruel, but also tender and compassionate; it's laugh-out-loud funny, yet haunting and tragic. It's also a reality-warping metaphysical triumph; Vonnegut breaks down the barriers between reality and fiction, and invites the reader into the very process of the novel's creation. He creates a more intimate bond between author, reader, and fictional character than any other writer I can think of.
Vonnegut presents some of American literature's most memorable characters in "Breakfast." But my favorite is undoubtedly Trout. Throughout the book we also get glimpses of Trout's own voluminous body of work, and meet some of his bizarre sci-fi characters. The book as a whole is also enriched by Vonnegut's unique style; he writes as if for an extraterrestrial audience to whom humanity is utterly alien.
"Breakfast" is a profane, naughty, yet profoundly spiritual book. Filled with strange and vivid details, it's an oddly comforting modern-day testament for our fractured world. Thanks, Kurt.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2002
Although not his most popular work, this is in my opinion Vonnegut's most brilliant novel. Superficially it seems childish, with it's inane illustrations (by the author) and rambling, seemingly unstructured text. But probe a little deeper and some truly profound insights emerge, and there is litle doubt that this is a work of carefully crafted, absolute genius.
There are at least four main themes in this book, and the way Vonnegut weaves them together is both masterful and unorthodox. (In no particular order) the first theme is of madness - Dwayne Hoover has finally fallen victim to the chemicals in his brain, and much of the narrative unfolds around his descent into lunacy and violence. The second theme is that of the alienation of modern-day life, as a despairing Kilgore Trout makes his "Pilgrim's Progress" across small-town USA, and Wayne Hoobler spends the novel waiting pathetically for his dreams to come true while standing by a Holiday Inn dumpster. The third theme is on the meaning of all art, both in Rabo Karabekian's stunning exposition on modern painting, and on Vonnegut's own musings about the point of writing a novel (which occurs within the narrative).
And the final theme, binding it all together, is that of love and connection. As is found in many of Vonnegut's works, he argues that the giving and receiving of love is the only thing that makes our otherwise meaningless lives valuable. Many people miss this point when they read Vonnegut, and hence come away feeling Vonnegut is a very bitter man. If you see this, you'll discover he is actually a deeply compassionate one.
I have read this book many times, and each time come away with a new insight. Read it and treasure it.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2000
Is it possible to say anything new about a book that has been in print for ~30 years, that has been read by millions, and which is widely studied in schools and universities?
No... but I do want to say that I loved every word (and illustration). You can pick up this old novel and get a very fresh outlook both on the human condition and on how novels ought to be written.
Vonnegut writes like he is explaining life on Earth to alien children. It is a tool that produces incredibly poignant satire, which he uses effectively to give commentary on conditions of life that the vast majority of us accept without even noticing. The language used is very simple but wonderfully lyrical, less-than-average readers will fly right through it.
Although clearly sadenned by his life, and by his observations of the planet, Vonnegut wrote a masterpiece that remains hopeful in its despair.
Kurt Vonnegut is a genius, and will no doubt be recognized as one of the 20th Century's greatest.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2007
I learned tonight of Kurt Vonnegut's passing, at age 84. I immediately thought of this book, Breakfast of Champions, as the quintessential Vonnegut novel -- not just for what is on the page, but moreso for what it meant to me, especially when I read it for the first time so many years ago.
It was 1979, just six years after he wrote Breakfast, and I was 15, a callow and precocious and dependable and rebellious lad, all at once in those crazy mid-adolescent years. And no one's words spoke quite as eloquently or directly to my fevered brain as did this aging, iconoclastic, sublimely inventive and imaginative author. He was only two years older than my father, and yet light years different in terms of his world view and humor. And to me, this out-of-left-field novel, about banal, blase and boring car salesman Dwayne Hooper and his sudden awakening and transformation into someone so much more complex, is brilliant absudist humor.
I think even the oft-derided cartoon drawings Vonnegut peppers his writings with -- and he uses them liberally throughout Breakfast -- work to perfection here. Vonnegut's drawings deftly set the tone and constantly remind the reader that this is not the overstuffed, pretentious stuff of Mailer or Vidal or any of Vonnegut's other contemporaries.
Re-reading Breakfast a few years ago, I couldn't help but think that an adolescent of today might consider the style almost quaint, considering how much snark and absurdist humor has permeated popular culture over the last 20 or 30 years. To some, I guess the discerning minority, it would be as powerful today as it was more than 30 years ago. There is humor that makes you laugh, and then there are works that also make you think and help expand your horizons to boot. To me, Breakfast of Champions is that kind of brilliance.
I found it deliciously ironic that it was my father's copy of Breakfast that I had swiped all those many years ago, a copy he never opened as far as I know, but a copy that still sits in my library to this day. I loved my father then as I do now, but at age 15 was discovering (as all boys do) that he was not the perfect hero I imagined when I was 6 or 7. Reading Vonnegut's brilliant, out-there work helped put in stark relief that there were so many different ideas and experiences and universes than the suburbia in which I'd grown up. And that was fine by me. Farewell, Kurt, and thanks for sharing your brilliance; I for one will miss it.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2005
This is the "Mad Magazine" Vonnegut, and if you have little use for that particular publication then you should read Player Piano or Slaughterhouse 5 instead of this book. The plot is quite simple on the face of it, a man going mad and the people he interacts with at a particular moment in time. The subplot is the authors musings on "life, the universe, and everything and how he is making a "balls" out of writing the novel your reading.
It's a damned clever idea, and it works quite well, even if the author didn't seem to think so at the time. Much has been said about the "babytalk" and crude drawings that fill the book, one gets a sence that the author is going through a chardic experience while writing the book, ( as Vonnegut admits himself to one of the major charaters in the book at the end, ), this chardic experience we share with the author as we seemingly experience along with him a "suprise" ending that was forshadowed virtually from the opening page...we see the end playing out as outlined but as events often do, they sprial out of the authors hand and drag the story to unplanned and unexpected events. Vonnegut himself seems to loose control of the situation towards the end, but he quickly re asserts himself for the final few pages in a funny yet profound way.
The book is a product of it's times, I call it a product of my times because I grew up in the period. In many ways the world has changed dramatically since then, so some observations tend to "jar" younger readers, like Mark Twain at his creative best, he is a mirror of his times, and as such some fine social satire is lost to modern audiences.
Mr. Vonnegut uses some mild "bad language" in the book, as much to make fun of the subject as to mildly shock the reader. this is in the same sort of vein as a George Carlin comedy routine and not because the author actually believes such terms should be used to offend someone..indeed, he uses these "offensive terms" in such a way to remove their "special power" they have over our language...they color the dialog in a disarming way, which only the most skilled of writers can acomplish.
Breakfast of Champions is more than a 50'th birthday present for the author, it is a gift from him to us as a reader. This book is so many things skillfully blended together in satire and witt that I doub't even the author can list them all, which is a good thing really, since it keeps us comming back for the ocasional read years after we first experienced his work the first time.
This is on my shortlist of great "novels", this is a book I would never let leave my library unless it takes a place next to my chair or bedside...if you find Monty Python funny, George Carlin a great social commentator, and Mark Twain a master of the written word you should like this book, but read it at face value first before you search for hidden meanings and rye observations, and it will soon be something you will savor again again in repeated readings.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2009
I remember when Breakfast of Champions first came out and I rushed to buy it in hardcover. I'd been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut's since I'd first read Slaughterhouse 5 and Cats Cradle. In fact, Slaughterhouse 5 was then my favorite book of all time and I was sure no other book would ever surpass it at the pinnacle of my list of favorites. I dove into the pages of Breakfast of Champions and my initial response was "huh?" At the age of 16 I just couldn't get into the story of a writer who turns 50 and sets free one of his literary creations.
Now that I'm 50 (plus a couple more) and Vonnegut has passed on, Breakfast of Champions rates higher than Slaughterhouse 5 on my personal list. Every time I've gone back and read Breakfast of Champions I picked up something new from it. At the age of 16 I thought the funniest thing in the book of the pen and ink drawing of Vonnegut's representation of the business end of the alimentary canal. Now instead of laughing out loud at the parts I think are funny, I tend to smile and nod in recognition of observations this master satirist and preeminent humanist makes.
Far from being just a story about a writer, the sci-fi novelist he creates and a car salesman whose chance meeting with his fellow fictional character sets him down a path of madness, Breakfast of Champions is the story of how we sometimes grow older without growing up. It's a tale that captures the Zeitgeist of the 1970s in the same way that Tom Wolfe captured the '80s in Bonfire of the Vanities ... except that Wolfe used far more words and failed to include a single drawing of an anus in his book.
Yet despite it's setting in the Me Decade/disco era of the '70s, the characters of Kilgore Trout, Dwayne Hoover and even Mr. Vonnegut himself would fit in quite nicely with our current time as they did back then when I thought Breakfast of Champions was only about men growing old and going a little nuts.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is a book that is so full of strange ideas, altered realities, and different perceptions that it's a little like reading a nervous breakdown at times. There is so much going on, that you may find yourself going back and reading a page three or four times just to pull everything that you can out of it. And just when you think it can't get any more insane, Kurt Vonnegut places the author of the book into the story-line itself as the Creator Of The Universe, but goes out of his way to give this author a name different to his own. Confusing? Yes. Enjoyable? Absolutely.
This book covers a wide range of topics. Racism, sexism, mental imbalance, chemistry, life, death, and literally hundreds of other subjects are discussed. The plot is set out in a very simple way so that Vonnegut has room to let his characters and himself entertain a variety of thoughts. The prose of the book is very detailed about the most mundane of material. Vonnegut can cleverly point to the absurdity of everyday things, merely by describing them in minute terms without resorting to overbearing judgments. By just reducing everything to its most basic components, he can show the flaws present in the most basic of fundamentals.
This minutiae even extends to the basics of story telling. By placing "the author" inside the fictional narrative, Vonnegut can point out some of the fundamentals of writing. Since no detail about a person is inherently more important than any other, there are times were we get an information dump of seemingly random information about the characters in the story. The question that comes to mind: is all of this information really irrelevant? If the author saw fit to include it, does it matter that the data doesn't relate to the narrative?
In summary, it's almost impossible to summarize most, or even much, of what Kurt Vonnegut has written about here. This is such a very densely written book that it would take twice the length of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS in order to talk about it properly. And even with all of the ideas and thoughts contained within, the book never feels bloated or incoherent. It's philosophical, entertaining, bizarre, thought-provoking and hilarious.
It's good. Highly recommended. Rush out and read it now.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2007
I was a bookworm since I learned how to read books at 7. I read Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions" the first time when I was still a teen (in Polish translation) and this book was probably the most astonishing I ever read in my life. Funny (but also bitter), interesting, easy to read, even had some author pictures, sometimes strangely related to the text. But on the other hand, this book really make you think - about the world, about our civilization and where it is heading, about the people and their strange ways, about America.
When I first read the book I was still in communistic Poland, so I saw some of the problems the author was talking about as a part of the western civilization. Now after I read it again, I see so much mild critique of excesses of America's life. I live in America ~ 10 years so it is normal that for me America would be always something different than my home country or Europe. I am amazed that Vonnegut still can look at America from the position of the external observer, who still can see some absurdity in many aspects of life.
In spite of his critique of the world, country and society Vonnegut loves people, he loves them with all their weakness and defects. His books have great educational value.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 1997
Never before have I read a book that so much wanted to drive me irrevocably insane. If you have tasted some of Vonnegut's other works and have enjoyed them, then read this. It's certainly my favourite, out of all the great books in his collection.
In it Dwayne Hoover, owner of a luxury car dealership in Midland City, is slowly going insane. He is on a crash-course towards bloody violence, mitigated by Kilgore Trout - writer of psychotic science-fiction tales. In his almost juvenile, simplistic prose, Vonnegut takes us on a harrowing ride through the mind of two lunatics, bouncing off the peripheral characters like murderous pinballs.
So, if you've acclimatized yourself to the utter genius of Kurt Vonnegut, then read on. If not, then perhaps it's best to test the waters first with his other works. You may never be the same again.