Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most widely read and admired American novelists of the twentieth century, grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His legacy of stylistically innovative and thematically outspoken fiction has inspired generations of writers and fans in ways few other novelists can claim. The son of a prominent local architect and a mother who suffered from chronic schizophrenia, Vonnegut’s childhood fostered a preoccupation with the age-old battle between normalcy and madness, themes that are pervasive in his works. In Breakfast of Champions, this conflict takes the form of an exploration of the dichotomy between American culture’s obsession with neurosis and the fixation with maintaining the status quo that invariably feeds that neurosis.
An eclectic pastiche of science fiction, social satire, moral fable, humor, and experimental minimalism, the exact essence of Vonnegut’s novel resists definitive description. Its plot, like the plot of its immediate predecessor, Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death (1969), defies conventional paraphrase. It seems nearly impossible to describe what “happens” in a Vonnegut novel without wavering between the sublime and the ridiculous. However, Vonnegut’s method is deliberate. As with most postmodern writers, the nature of storytelling—with its plethora of devices, techniques, and machinations—is a central theme in his works. Even the structure of his narrative coincides closely with his principal concerns. Vonnegut’s narratives borrow from almost every fiction-making approach imaginable, at times even expanding their parameters beyond the confines of the written word. Just as he does in Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut, in Breakfast of Champions,...
(The entire section is 730 words.)