Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” is an unsatisfying and frustrating read, because of a self-indulgent writing style in which the author seems intent on expressing particular themes or messages but does not quite communicate them – resulting instead in a disjointed narrative – and because the satirical elements or intended humour felt contrived. Some of these themes, for instance, could have centred on racial, gender, socio-economic, and sexuality discrimination in the context of the United States, yet the reader spends too much time figuring out Vonnegut’s intentions, rather than enjoying the characters and the plot development as they were presented.
“Breakfast of Champions” – which refers to an expression on a breakfast cereal product, known in real life to feature prominent athletes on its packaging – focuses on three protagonists: Charming yet deranged Pontiac dealer Dwayne Hoover, unknown pulp science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, as well as Vonnegut himself. With multiple business ventures Hoover owns much of Midland City, while Trout is hitchhiking to the city to deliver a keynote address at a local arts festival, and the climax arrives when both characters meet for the first time just before the start of the festival. In fact, this meeting happens very late into the book, and the events which transpire thereafter happen very quickly. There is also a cast of supporting characters who related to the protagonists, though in a familiar critique these characters were never introduced or developed adequately for the reader to share a meaningful emotional connection with them.
Scattered throughout the book, Vonnegut’s childlike illustrations are likely meant to be whimsical and to further emphasise the absurdity of the literary world he has created, but they oftentimes felt redundant and out of place (their accessibility, it might be argued, could be limited to American readers). The same can be said about the structure of the book and his physical descriptions of the characters – especially of their sexual organs – and other graphic expositions, which again, as aforementioned, leaves the reader thinking more about the author’s motivations. And they come at the expense of broader discourse on the themes of free will and mental illness too.