(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Kilgore Trout is a largely obscure science-fiction writer living in Cohoes, New York. Although his work is widely published, it is used only as filler text in pornographic novels and magazines. No one, reader or fan, has ever acknowledged Trout for his writing. Trout himself can find copies of his fiction only by seeking them out in lurid sex shops.

One day in 1972, Trout receives a letter from Fred T. Barry, a wealthy industrialist from Midland City. Barry, strangely enough, has come across Trout’s work and is an ardent fan. Barry uses his influence as chairperson of Midland City’s arts commission to garner Trout an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the city’s annual arts festival. A hermit for many years, Trout nonetheless takes Barry up on the opportunity to appear in Midland City, where he plans to use the festival as his chance to espouse to the reading public the highly unconventional views expressed in his stories.

Dwayne Hoover, a prosperous entrepreneur in Midland City, has no knowledge of Trout. Despite owning a lucrative car dealership and several other businesses in town, Dwayne is miserably unhappy and suffers from serious inner turmoil. His wife had recently committed suicide, and his son Bunny is estranged from him because Dwayne refuses to accept the young man’s homosexuality. Dwayne also is involved in a torrid and less than fulfilling affair with his secretary, and he also is experiencing hallucinations, panic attacks, and other symptoms of an emotional breakdown.

Upon receiving word of his invitation to speak in Midland City, Trout, nearly penniless and devoid of all but the most rudimentary social skills, hitchhikes to nearby New York City, where he plans to thumb a ride to the Midwest with a long-haul trucker. Shortly after arriving, he finds a copy of his novel Now It Can Be Told in a pornography shop, but is promptly mugged. Having lost everything but the book and the ten-dollar bill he had stashed inside his trousers, he is forced to hit the road even earlier than he had anticipated.

In Midland City, Dwayne’s symptoms continue to worsen. Unable to deal with people, he begins spending nights at the Holiday Inn near his car dealership. He devotes most of his day to driving aimlessly around town, listening to radio commercial jingles. One time while at the Holiday Inn, he becomes convinced that the asphalt under his feet is sinking deep into the ground as he walks across it. Shortly thereafter, he returns to the dealership to check up on things, only to find that he has developed echolalia—a rare condition that forces him to...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)