“Open your eyes!” said Trout bitterly. “Do I look like a dancer, a singer, a man of joy?” He was wearing his tuxedo now. It was a size too large for him. He had lost much weight since high school. His pickets were crammed with mothballs. They bulged like saddlebags.
At the darkened bar of a Holiday Inn in Midland City, also known as the “asshole of the Universe”, sits Dwayne Hoover. He’s completely insane but is trying his best to hide it. Next to him sits Kilgore Trout, the intrepid hero of this Vonnegut tale who will push Hoover over the edge. And near them, wearing sunglasses with trifocal mirrored lenses that he hopes will disguise him from the world, is both men’s creator – Kurt Vonnegut himself.
The fourth wall has crumbled many times before and after Vonnegut’s ‘Breakfast of Champions’ was published, but never in quite such a manner. For one, Vonnegut is quite nervous to meet Trout in person for the first time because he was the one human he had created that had sufficient imagination to guess that perhaps he was a character created by someone else. There was no mind-numbing existential question. The author sought the character out because let’s face it, he wants to know what happens as much as the rest of us.
Secondly, even though novel-Vonnegut knows exactly what’s going to happen, in this tale he’s hardly omnipotent. He may have put things in motion, but he’s not sure exactly what is in store for his characters – which is how he ends up with a broken pair of glasses and a broken toe. He’s a rather apologetic god, vanishing into the void when things get too complicated, avoiding eye contact by creating new characters to interact with anyone noticing him, and continuously popping anxiety pills.
On the anniversary of Vonnegut’s death, there is no better way to celebrate his life than to read this book; his own tribute to his recurring failed sci-fi author character Kilgore Trout, who appears without fail in every one of his books.
In ‘Breakfast of Champions’, Vonnegut puts him through hell as soon as he finishes dusting off his mothball suit to go to a literary festival in the mid-West.
After Mr Rosewater (another beloved character, see ‘God Bless you Mr Rosewater’ for more) writes to him to say that he is a brilliant author, Trout immediately assumes he’s a teenager rather than a multi-millionaire businessman who just happens to love his books enough to own a private collection.
But when his invitation to go to the literary festival arrives, Trout decides to make a political statement. Searching for his published work (which only appeared published in porno magazines) he hits the road, hitchhiking along the way with some very odd truck drivers, waking up in a ditch after being mugged and having to walk through a polluted river.
“You are pooped and demoralised,” read Dwayne. “Why wouldn’t you be? Of course it is exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn’t meant to be reasonable.”
He could have never imagined (though Vonnegut did) that one of his stories would be read by a madman and believed immediately. Trout’s story about the Creator’s letter to its only creation, explaining that everyone else in the world is a robot and that it’s only him that is real was exactly what Hoover needed to explain his current predicament.
Master of the hyperbole, Vonnegut will always leave the reader guessing. And that’s just how we like it.