Recently, one of the members for my Rock & Roll Bookclub wanted to re-read some Kurt Vonnegut. Since I’m a great lover of Vonnegut, I wholeheartedly supported this idea. I lobbied hard for Cat’s Cradle or God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which are my favorite.
For reasons I cannot remember we landed on Breakfast of Champions. It was interesting to re-visit nearly twenty years after that summer I spent shoving every Vonnegut book I could get my hands on right into my brain. Because much of my Vonnegut reading was during the summer of 1993, all his books have coalesced in my memory into a murky Vonnegut stew of characters and lines and vague plot summaries. So it goes.
Here’s what I’ve learned re-reading Breakfast of Champions: it’s nice to curl back into Vonnegut’s prose. It’s like putting on your favorite red-hooded sweatshirt on that first cool fall day. It’s comfortable and worn and warm and feels like home.
Also, I do not particularly care for most metafiction even when it’s by my beloved Mr. Vonnegut. I add all the qualifiers (care for, most) because the minute you make a definitive declaration like “Metafiction sucks” someone is all “but you love blah or blah and so on” and you end up looking like a jackass. As a reader I find metafiction too twee, too self-conscious. It’s as though the author is a little too in love with his or her own cleverness. Blech.
Metafiction to me is the equivalent of a five-minute guitar solo: ridiculously self-indulgent on the part of the artist and a bore to anyone not actively involved in the creation.
But even so, Vonnegut metafiction is better than about 83% of all the books out there. It’s got his bold matter-of-fact style of laying out truth which is hilarious in the way that things that make you uncomfortable all. For instance:
“Dwayne’s bad chemicals made him take a loaded thirty-eight caliber revolver from under his pillow and stick it in his mouth. This was a tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings.”
Plus, there’s a lot of Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut’s fictional alter-ego. A prolific science-fiction writer whose work is often used to fill out the pages of porn mags. The best bits of Breakfast of Champions are the paragraphs summarizing various Trout novels.
The plot of this one seems besides the point: rich auto-dealer goes nutso after reading a Kilgore Trout book and deciding everyone is a robot. Also, Kilgore Trout meets his maker, his maker being Kurt Vonnegut. See? That metafiction stuff kind of ruins everything.
As far as books go you could do a lot worse than picking up anything by Vonnegut, but if you’ve never experienced him before Breakfast of Champions is not a good place to begin. This is one that you’ll enjoy more once you develop an affection for the writer.