Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

The best way I can describe Kurt Vonnegut's writing is viciously satirical. Vonnegut is considered a black comedy writer, but it's stronger than that. I admit, I certainly laughed on a few occasions (maybe 4), particularly when the continents were described as "floating on molten slurp". I also really enjoyed the hero, Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer and a character from another of Vonnegut's novels. His method of coping with the world is to make up science fiction stories about the absurdity he finds all around him. These mini novellas are absolute gems. Finally, and most importantly, there were many occasions throughout the course of this book where I got the distinct sense that there was some connection, some symbolism, some message I hadn't quite grasped. It was these little hints amidst the chaos that made me think, hard at times, and also made me wish it wasn't over when it was. On the other hand, it would be like Vonnegut try to fool me into thinking the chaos had some deeper meaning.

At a few points in this book I considered putting it down altogether due to the extremely vulgar adult content (not to mention language). What allowed me to continue reading was the sense that Vonnegut was being blatantly honest and that the issues he raised were rooted in many people's very real life experiences. Ultimately, I was disappointed and saddened by the distinct lack of hope throughout much of the book; one bright spot was Eddie Key, a character who had the responsibility of memorizing the exploits of every member of his family for many generations into the past. All in all though, Vonnegut doesn't come across as a particularly cheerful individual; Breakfast of Champions left me thankful that I have hope.

One last comment: throughout the book Vonnegut ends paragraphs with the words "And so on." He often begins with "And..." Instead of the standard "The End" conclusion, Vonnegut's last word is "ETC". He explains that human lives don't fit the initial incident-rising action-climax-conclusion model so often used in novels - it's a big humble jumble of accidents, mistakes and chance encounters. And so on.

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