The following is in response to Kurt Vonnegut’s book Breakfast of Champions, which was the twenty-third book that I read this year.
Vonnegut is no doubt a master of contemporary American literature—it even says so on the back of the book. But I didn’t take the words on the book’s cover to heart before reading it myself; partly because I didn’t want to go into this book with assumptions based on what was written by some editor, and partly because I am just now reading the back cover for the first time. Ha!
One of the great things about this book (and his other books) is that he manages to complain about America without causing an uproar. For example, he pokes around the fiery memory of World War Two as if with a stick at a campfire: “He won all those medals in the Second World War, which was staged by robots so that Dwayne Hoover could give a free-willed reaction to such a holocaust. The war was such an extravaganza that there was scarcely a robot anywhere who didn’t have a part to play. Harold Newcomb Wilbur got his medals for killing Japanese, who were yellow robots. They were fueled by rice. (207)”
And again shortly after, Vonnegut complains about the American people and its government by blaming it on its literature: “As I approached by fifteenth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books. (215)” This passage really made me think.
Another great thing about this book is what he does near the end: Vonnegut himself becomes a character and watches the breakfast scene go down in its fictional glory (This happens around page two hundred and twenty-five or so if you wanted to have a look for yourself). He has in essence created a story in which he can comment on his characters while they are still on stage. Bravo!