There are books you just read once, books you reread, and books you read so often the covers fall off. That often-read-book for me is Breakfast of Champions, It’s a zany story about the meeting of two old white men—complete with crude scribbling woven into the text. Kilgore Trout is a pessimistic, down-on-his-luck science fiction writer who is invited to speak at an arts festival. He crosses paths with Dwayne Hoover, a mentally unstable businessman who reads a story by Trout, and believing it to be true, goes on a rampage. The ride that Vonnegut takes you on is laugh-out-loud funny, but it also contains a serious literary message.
In a previous novel, Mother Night, Vonnegut writes: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
In Breakfast of Champions, I think, Vonnegut is furthering that message to warn us that we must be careful of the stories we come to believe in—no matter how noble. Whether they are about patriotism, or religion, or about how the good guy gets the girl, stories shape the way we think and choose to act and it’s important to realize this because otherwise, however unlikely, we could become the Dwayne Hoovers, the Elliot Rodgers, the Nazis of the world—the kind of people who delude themselves so deeply in the stories they create that real people become extraneous, disposable characters.
It’s so much easier to try and interpret life as clean-cut. There is a beginning, there is rising action, and there is a reason for all of this. Vonnegut is trying to remind us that there is no narrator, no final resolutions in life, instead, we are authors of our own lives and it is our duty to make sure we’re aware of what we’re acting out every day. I’d like to think so—or at least that’s going to be the story I tell myself.