Review: Breakfast of Champions

One of the consolations of aging is the experience of revisiting authors and works that impressed me previously.  Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors who I first read in college, but who I’ve kept up with reading throughout my life.  I received a copy of Breakfast Of Champions as a high school graduation gift.  (I read an e-book version from the LAPL this time, though.)

Vonnegut claims that Breakfast is his 50th birthday gift to himself, which my high-school-graduating self failed to grok but 50-year-old me appreciated deeply. In fact, as a kid I recall putting off reading Breakfast for some time.  I had to be drawn to Vonnegut through Deadeye Dick and some other work first.  Breakfast seems to be a more challenging read to me, even now.  Vonnegut eschews a lot of narrative convention and tradition and moves into metafiction. There is little suspense.  He is explicit about the “plot,” many of these characters come from other stories, and he appears himself as a character.  As much metafiction does, it made me think about what a story is and why one writes them; it’s easy to see writing this as gift to oneself.

Inside this ungainly shape, Vonnegut’s observational skills and precise, evocative writing really shine.  Only Vonnegut could write “Their imaginations were flywheels on the ramshackle machinery of the awful truth.” There are many other brilliant searchlights thrown up on the human condition.

The only aspect of Breakfast that jarred me unpleasantly this time was how clumsily he represents black characters.  His non-white characters all read like 70’s blacksploitation stereotypes to me.  I’m still turning over how to interpret this, but it feels like a limitation of experience.  As a fan of Vonnegut as an observer of the human condition, that troubles me a bit.  More to think about.

Strongly Recommended.

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