Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Revisiting Breakfast of Champions

Somehow my partner missed Breakfast of Champions in her first go round of Vonnegut and seeing her read it reminded me of how funny and brilliant I thought the book was when I first read it over ten years ago. I just had to put everything else aside and pick it up again. There is always some trepidation when returning to a book you loved when you were younger. Will it still seem brilliant or will it suffer from the Holden Caulfield effect? Or, worst of all, will it prove that I just went through a "phase?"

But Breakfast of Champions is just as funny, accurate, and brilliant as it was when I read it as a teenager. Vonnegut's dead-on critiques of racism, classism, and consumerism in American society are still, tragically, relevant. His play with the relationship between writer, character, and reader still feels fresh and vibrant. It's hard to imagine a writer more beloved in his or her life time than Vonnegut was during his, but, there's the possibility that Vonnegut's work can grow in importance as long as the America he described remains unchanged.

As good as that might be for the longevity of his ouevre, that lack of change in the world, seemed to contribute to some of the sadness that surrounded him at the end of his life. In a great essay from his collection Not That You Asked, Steve Almond does an amazing job capturing not only what Vonnegut meant to so many people, but also Vonnegut's own sense of melancholy from trying his hardest for as long as he could and failing to save the world from itself.

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