"The expression 'Breakfast of Champions' is a registered trademark of General Mills, Inc. for use on a breakfast cereal product. The use of the identical expression as the title for this book is not intended to indicate an association with or sponsorship by General Mills, nor is it intended to disparage their fine products."

- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in Breakfast of Champions

Copyright 1973. I loaned this book to another noder (years ago, before he showed me E2 and consesquently before the word "noder" entered my vocabulary) and in one of his daylogs here, he notes that it "smacks of Everything." Certainly, the book is organized in tiny, E1-style chunks, and is in many ways a series of definitions, a sort of guide to life in Vonnegut's America. You can tell this man is just aching to see the birth of hypertext:

"When Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout met each other, their country was by far the richest and most powerful country on the planet. It had most of the food and minerals and machinery, and it disciplined other countries by threatening to shoot big rockets at them or to destroy things on them for airplanes.

"Most other countries didn't have doodley-squat. Many of them weren't inhabitable anymore. They had too many people and not enough space. They had sold everything that was any good, and there wasn't anything to eat anymore, and still the people went on fucking all the time.

Fucking was how babies were made."

I know very few people who didn't spend at least some part of their adolescence engrossed in Vonnegut, so for many of you, Breakfast of Champions will be familiar territory. For one thing, as evidenced above, his skewed sense of humor and his skewering vision of America are perhaps more evident here than in any other Vonnegut book I've ever read. For another, Vonnegut's alter ego, the sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout, is more prominent here than in any other Vonnegut work I've ever read.

But while it's familiar territory to anyone who's read Vonnegut before, it's not so familiar that I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone who, say, spent his or her adolescence embroiled in Vonnegut and has since outgrown him. Many passages are laugh-out-loud funny - I'm particularly fond of his summaries of Kilgore Trout's novels and short stories (which are, you may know, inexplicably packaged as porn, and printed in the kind of magazines that don't even send complimentary copies to their writers, let alone pay). So are his Magic Marker caricatures of assholes, underwear and hyperdermic syringes. The book is clever, on both macro and micro levels - but I don't think it's merely that.

The plot centers around Dwayne Hoover, a used-car dealer in the Midwest, as his course in life collides with miserable, cynical Kilgore Trout: verging on nervous breakdown, Hoover encounters Kilgore Trout in a parking lot and pleads, "Give me the message." Trout hands him a copy of his novel, Now It Can Be Told], and Hoover is finally unraveled by the novel's written-in-second-person revelation that he, the reader, is the only person on the planet with free will, that those around him are mere automatons. Not to spoil it, but near the end of the book, Trout has a curiously parallel conversation with Vonnegut, his maker, who agrees to liberate him.

But for me, the book is only kind of about that whole free-will thing. It's really a beautiful slice of an entirely un-beautiful America: strip malls, fast food, used-car lots, pornography, racism, American arrogance - and most of all, desperation and isolation. Yes, it's funny and political and satirical and philosophical and strange. But it's also a rendering of a very familiar place, whose existence we try to deny.

In fact, the setting for this book is the Midwest, which I have never in fact visited, but the place it describes is so familiar that I was not a bit surprised when Twin Falls, Idaho was chosen as the shooting location for the film. Twin Falls is not exactly home to me - though I grew up just a few hours away, I find the place distressingly flat. And, well, creepy, in that strip-malls-used-car-dealers-and-other-American-detritus way. Nonetheless, I was hoping Bruce Willis (who, as a sometime Idaho resident and local bete noire, is also familiar with Twin) and company would render it as interestingly as Vonnegut rendered the Midwest.

But no dice. Those of you who saw Slaughterhouse-Five and found it utterly baffling and disappointing will likely walk away from this with the same feeling. I don't know how it's possible to take an extremely accessible author with a notoriously straightforward, easy to follow style, and make his work into inaccessible gibberish, but that's exactly what happened to our boy here.

Obligatory IMDB info:

Breakfast of Champions (1999)

Directed by Alan Rudolph

Writing credits:

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (book)

Alan Rudolph (screenplay)

Breakfast of Champions (1999) Cast:

Bruce Willis .... Dwayne Hoover, Owner Exit 11 Motor Village
Albert Finney .... Kilgore Trout, Writer
Nick Nolte .... Harry Le Sabre, Hoover's Sales Manager
Barbara Hershey .... Celia Hoover
Glenne Headly .... Francine Pefko, Hoover's Secretary
Lukas Haas .... George 'Bunny' Hoover, Lounge Singer
Omar Epps .... Wayne Hoobler
Vicki Lewis .... Grace Le Sabre
Buck Henry .... Fred T. Barry, Chairman of Midland City Arts Festival
Ken Hudson Campbell .... Eliot Rosewater/Gilbert (as Ken Campbell)
Jake Johannsen .... Bill Bailey, Bunny's Manager
Will Patton .... Moe the Truck Driver
Chip Zien .... Andy Wojeckowzski, Gave ride to Trout
Owen Wilson .... Monte Rapid, TV Host
Alison Eastwood .... Maria Maritimo