Friday, July 24, 2009
book review - Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut
Going from Cats Cradle onto Breakfast of Champions this is a book that quickly reminds you of Slaughterhouse 5 in a much more direct than Cradle. The science fiction writer Kilgore Trout is back in the spotlight but Vonnegut is having fun with the writing process here spinning the relationship between author and his creations.
The phrase Breakfast of Champions is an advertising slogan for a cereal and one of the main themes of the book is around consumerism. This is an America that has grown fat on its own economic success. The main setting Midland City, is a town shaped by the money of car dealer and hotel owner Dwayne Hoover, who is slowly but surely having a breakdown as the story unfolds. He becomes increasingly unstable as his life of luxury and boredom unravels. The final push into insanity comes when Hoover meets Trout at an artistic convention and reads some of the sci-fi author's work.
As Hoover loses it and some of the other characters are dragged into his destructive breakdown Trout heads off for a meeting with his creator - the author. As Vonnegut flips the conventions of a normal book to challenge the perception of what is reality you have to ask if you are also facing a Hoover moment. After he reads a message from the creator telling him to shake off the shackles of being a robot and show free will are we also trapped in the same way?
Vonnegut is encouraging you to ask what really constitutes happiness. What is success? If you are so tied into a system that prevents you from expressing your true feelings then are you in fact not much better than a robot being controlled by society. Of course that message, which is enough to start a spiral of self introspection, is wrapped up in great humour and imagination. It is impossible not to review the book without making a mention of the illustrations that Vonnegut litters the text with. They are not only funny but help immerse the reader into some of the signs, shared language and consumerism of mid-town USA.
The more you read Vonnegut the more you get to his motivation. If Dostoevsky was determined to spread the message of brotherhood then here is an author equally passionate challenging you to think about what is real. As the money flows and the neon signs get brighter and those with wealth become more removed from reality it becomes frightening. Overlay that with nuclear weapons, a race on the scientific front to produce ever more deadly and mysterious weapons and you have plenty of material. The way Vonnegut can weave it all in and leave you not only wiser but wanting more is the sign of a great writer.