Monday, January 30, 2012

Book 4 of 52: Breakfast of Champions

I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done. If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead. It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.
 Breakfast of Champions
I find this to be the funny truth about re-reading fiction: the work tells us much more about who we were and who we are than the text can convey in a vacuum. This is why I now enjoy going back to my favorites, something I never did when I was younger. Like a visit with old friends, it marks the passage of time.

Breakfast of Champions was never my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel. I remember a spring and summer when my best friend and I raced through everything of Vonnegut's we could get our hands on. I think that between us we read close to all of Vonnegut's major works, comparing notes, deciding to skip this one or to move that one up the queue. Compared to his best, (I'd say: Slaughterhouse Five [of course], Bluebeard, and Cat's Cradle), Breakfast of Champions is sloppy, repetitive, and missing the 'it' that drives us through his better works. Of no help is the fact that nearly all the characters in Breakfast of Champions appear in other Vonnegut books; they are all more fleshed out, better interesting, and more engaging in their proper places than in this mash-up. Breakfast of Champions is very introspective, depending largely on first-person omniscient narration, though that introspection feels a little like solipsism if we don't know what the author is up to.

Of course, Vonnegut holds out on us in this book. He doesn't tell us what he's up to (creating chaos from the usually orderly writing process) until nearly the climax of the novel. In the decade since I read it last, I'd forgotten that part of Breakfast of Champions, so I arrived at it as a new surprise.

I'm sure I was too young, too unobservant to detect the meta-textual trail of breadcrumbs running through this book when I first read it. Vonnegut is a character in the book, writing the prologue and serving as the narrator. As the narrator, we watch him write a story in which he appears (again?) as a character. He states several time that this book serves as his fiftieth birthday present to himself, and reading it is, at times, like visiting a friend, then discussing the self-portrait that the friend has painted, framed and hung over his own mantle.

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