Audie Award Finalist, Best Male Narrator, 2016
Breakfast of Champions (1973) provides frantic, scattershot satire and a collage of Vonnegut's obsessions. His recurring cast of characters and American landscape was perhaps the most controversial of his canon; it was felt by many at the time to be a disappointing successor to Slaughterhouse-Five, which had made Vonnegut's literary reputation.
The core of the novel is Kilgore Trout, a familiar character very deliberately modeled on the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985), a fact that Vonnegut conceded frequently in interviews and that was based upon his own occasional relationship with Sturgeon. Here Kilgore Trout is an itinerant wandering from one science fiction convention to another; he intersects with the protagonist, Dwayne Hoover (one of Vonnegut's typically boosterish, lost, and stupid mid-American characters), and their intersection is the excuse for the evocation of many others, familiar and unfamiliar, dredged from Vonnegut's gallery. The central issue is concerned with intersecting and apposite views of reality, and much of the narrative is filtered through Trout, who is neither certifiably insane nor a visionary writer but can pass for either depending upon Dwayne Hoover's (and Vonnegut's) view of the situation.
America, when this novel was published, was in the throes of Nixon, Watergate, and the unraveling of our intervention in Vietnam; the nation was beginning to fragment ideologically and geographically, and Vonnegut sought to cram all of this dysfunction (and a goofy, desperate kind of hope, the irrational comfort given through the genre of science fiction) into a sprawling narrative whose sense, if any, is situational, not conceptual. Reviews were polarized; the novel was celebrated for its bizarre aspects and became the basis of a Bruce Willis movie adaptation whose reviews were not nearly so polarized. (Most critics hated it.)
©1973 Kurt Vonnegut (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Breakfast of Champions was the first of Kurt Vonnegut's novels that I read upon its original publication. Like many others, I was introduced to KV via Slaughterhouse-5 and went back and read his entire back catalogue while awaiting his next title. 40 years later, whenever a KV audiobook comes up in a sale, I get it and re-read it in a format that should be, in theory, ideal for conveying his idiosyncratic voice.
My results have been mixed in a specific way -- books I didn't care for as in my younger days (Mother Night, Rosewater) are ones I loved listening to, timeless classics still relevant today, while those long ago dubbed classics (Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions) now come across as dated, juvenile, amateurish.
That I felt that way about BoC is no surprise -- KV himself gave it a C, the second lowest grade he gave his own novels. Listen: he was right. He tells you in the foreword (and he said it again over the years) that this is an exercise in dumping random ideas that were cluttering his brain. It sure reads that way. When he strays from his characters to pursue and purge these thoughts, he loses momentum from what could've been a good straightforward narrative, and he loses me. I'm all for metafiction, but his would've better as straight fiction.
I was hoping this version, with the great actor John Malkovich narrating, would make for a memorable audiobook experience. Malkovich should stick to acting. His deadpan delivery is all wrong -- he sounds like he is reading the lines for the first time. He takes long pauses in the middle of sentences and then runs on to new sentences without pause. I would normally blame myself for setting my expectations too high, but this performance by one of my favorite actors is technically and stylistically bad.
All that said, there are interesting angles for Vonnegut fans. Like Kilgore Trout, KV was dealing with newfound fame following the publication of S-5 and was not sure he wanted to keep writing, themes he explores. He was dealing concurrently with his son's schizophrenia (recounted in Eden Express), hence the primary themes madness, free will, perceptions of reality -- we didn't know about his when the book was published, but in hindsight, looking for this theme helped me get through the mediocrity of the overall work.
Be warned that there is potentially offensive language and subject matter. KV allows the racism of some of his characters to come through with frequent use of the N word, he informs the reader of the dimensions of every male characters' junk, and he also discusses female genitalia in detail.
On the other hand, KV has a genius for distilling things into simplistic language that really packs a punch -- he describes Vietnam as a war to save rice-fueled Asian robots from Communism by dropping things on them from the sky, and defoliants as chemicals used to destroy the trees the rice-fueled robots use to hide from the things dropped on them from the sky. (He doesn't call them Asian, he uses a slur that I will not repeat.)
Malkovich's deadpan tone is spot-on. Not spot-on is his frequent misreading of sentences and his weird tendency to run consecutive sentences into each other. I don't think Malkovich had his attention focused on the task. His mind was wandering. This performance was well done in many places, but in many other places it was distracting and off-putting.
If you are unfamiliar with Vonnegut or with this book Breakfast of Champions in particular, then I do *not* recommend listening to this audiobook. It will not make you a fan of Vonnegut.
1) Vonnegut speaks honestly about relevant social issues without being sanctimonious.
2) Malkovich says "doodely-squat" and "wide-open beavers" beautifully and its everything you could hope for.
I love Kurt Vonnegut (and here there is a picture of a big heart). However, I don't believe that this is one of his better stories. Of course, he admitted it was not one of his better stories. In addition, because the drawings make the book a little more enjoyable, not having them makes it a little less enjoyable. John Malkovich (and here there is a picture of a bald man) does an OK job. However, his voice comes across as a bit bored.I'm curious how I would've experienced the story with a different narrator (and here there is a picture of a big question mark).
This is the ultimate match-up; Vonnegut read by Malkovich. Huge Vonnegut fan that I am, he can do no wrong in my mind. Sassy and cynical, with depth but accessible. Our foibles, and follies, and self absorbedness in black and white. The quirk of Vonnegut is timeless and apropos. But we never open our eyes, do we. Ironically, my favorite part is the epilogue; a place I can closely relate and oddly brought me to tears.
The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history
Just finished listening to Breakfast of Champions as read by John Malkovich. I thought Malkovich did an amazing job, his descriptions of the hand-drawn illustrations from the book made me laugh, as did many, many things in the book. Far from being “just” a reaction to the state of the world in 1973 when it was first published, the book seems to me to have been scarily prescient of the state of the world around me right now (2016).
There was so much I loved about this book there is no way I can fit it all into one review. Here are just a few of the things:
1) The way Vonnegut explained in one or two sentences what common words meant, as if someone in the far future were reading the book and would need explanations, as here:
“Dwayne's bad chemicals made him take a loaded thirty-eight caliber revolver from under his pillow and stick it in his mouth. This was a tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings.”
“A lamb was a young animal which was legendary for sleeping well on the planet Earth.”
2) Spot-on observations about the human condition, which appeared practically every paragraph, as here:
“The women all had big minds because they were big animals, but they didn't use them for this reason: unusual ideas could make enemies and the women, if they were going to achieve any sort of comfort and safety, needed all the friends they could get. So, in the interest of survival they trained themselves to be agreeing machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking and then they thought it too.”
“The whole city was dangerous—because of chemicals and the uneven distribution of wealth and so on.”
“It didn't matter much what Dwayne said. It hadn't mattered much for years. It didn't matter much what most people in Midland City said out loud, except when they were talking about money or structures or travel or machinery - or other measurable things. Every person had a clearly defined part to play - as a black person, a female high school drop-out, a Pontiac dealer, a gynecologist, a gas-conversion burner installer. If a person stopped living up to expectations, because of bad chemicals or one thing or another, everybody went on imagining that the person was living up to expectations anyway. That was the main reason the people in Midland City were so slow to detect insanity in their associates. Their imaginations insisted that nobody changed much from day to day. Their imaginations were flywheels on the ramshackle machinery of awful truth.”
3) Sentences and sequences that made me laugh out loud, like this:
“Like everybody else in the cocktail lounge, he was softening his brain with alcohol. This was a substance produced by a tiny creature called yeast. Yeast organisms ate sugar and excreted alcohol. They killed themselves by destroying their environment. Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.”
“Thomas Jefferson High School [..] His high school was named after a slave owner who was also one of the world’s greatest theoreticians on the subject of human liberty.”
Brilliant, mind-blowing novel, totally different from anything else I have ever read. I would highly recommend this version narrated by Mr. Malkovich.
It's was a little slow and fry for Vonnegut in my opinion but none the less a good novel with excellent reading. John Malkovich was an interesting choice but absolutely nailed the overall tone of the story. I probably would listen again but we'll worth it at least once. Anyone struggling with it: finish it. trust me the ending is worth it.
One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
This book is amusing enough if you've enjoyed other Vonnegut works, and even uproarious at times regardless of whether you've ever read Vonnegut. And yet, I couldn't help feeling like a newcomer to a succession of inside jokes, or to a running gag that only Vonnegut devotees get. I think this insider-feeling to the novel is one reason why Vonnegut graded this book a "C" in hindsight.
I was peeved at John Malkovich's narration, particularly since it was the clincher in buying this audiobook. In steely staccato, he speed read through this book with an unrivaled indifference.
By comparison, I've found other renowned actors' narrations have exceeded my expectations; for example, Maggie Gyllenhaal's reading/acting of The Bell Jar, Tim Robbins of Fahrenheit 451, Richard Armitage of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and Jennifer Connelly of The Sheltering Sky. I guess that's the difference between really caring and just cashing in.
This was my first Kurt Vonnegut novel (not the conventional one to start with, I know) but it is the best novel I've listened to all year. John Malcovich is the perfect reader for this piece as well. Bravo! Excellent overall.
"One of a kind"
One of a kind story. All connects madly and meaningfully. Malkovich performance is perfectly suited.
From start to finish. My very favourite Vonnegut book so far. An inspired reading by John Malkovich.
"Malkovich - oh dear"
I've been a fan of Vonnegut for an exceedingly long time and am currently revisiting his work. This is no Slaughterhouse 5 but still a real entertainment. I loved Vonnegut's imperfectly and inconsistently offbeat view of the world and this is a good example, not so much a story as slow unravelling of a tale, a character and the author.
The only real question mark for me is John Malkovich. I've always loved the man and the voice but here it doesn't quite work. None more so than at the beginning of the book where he struggles with sentences and timing. Still the author and narrator share that curious alien in our world charm and altogether it works.
Another brilliant Vonnegut book, performed exquisitely by John Malkovich. Hearing tales of wide of open beaver in his customary monotone is hilarious.
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