Top books of 1973, #2: Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Little Kago himself died long before the planet did. He was attempting to lecture on the evils of the automobile in a bar in Detroit. But he was so tiny that nobody paid any attention to him. He lay down to rest for a moment, and a drunk automobile worker mistook him for a kitchen match. He killed Kago by trying to strike him repeatedly on the underside of the bar.

Breakfast of Champions is firmly in third place in the ranking of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels on both LibraryThing and Goodreads, and firmly in second place among the books of 1973 on both systems. Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle are his top and second novels, and I think that is fair; both are much better books. (Indeed I find The Sirens of Titan, which is fourth on both lists, more to my taste.)

The book is about a science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, on his way to a literary convention in a town which may or may not be Vonnegut’s original home, Indianapolis, and his violent encounter with a deranged local automobile dealer. The author himself features as an anonymous first-person viewpoint minor character, though one with godlike powers over the other characters.

It’s a frustarting book, because it combines some very incisive social commentary with some very regrettable tics; the body measurements of female characters and penis sizes of male characters are all cited, and the n-word is freely thrown around to an extent that was surely already unacceptable in 1973. Vonnegut illustrates it with hs own drawing, which are frankly childish. There are some serious messages lurking there, and some good questions asked about what it is we really expect from fictional narratives, but the book as a whole is just self-indulgent. You can get it here.

I noted a couple of weeks ago the historical background of Phoebe Hurty, aka Glaadys Sutton, aka Jane Jordan, to whom this book is dedicated. Vonnegut remained true to his Indianapolis roots.