When we think of Kurt Vonnegut, we tend to think of Slaughterhouse-Five. Maybe we also think of the short story “Harrison Bergeron,” which gets assigned in class by slightly alternative-minded English teachers. Now that I think about it, I realize that those two works of Vonnegut’s have both become movies: George Roy Hill’s Slaughterhouse-Five hit theaters in 1972, and Bruce Pittman’s Harrison Bergeron debuted on Showtime in 1995. But the belovedly cynical writer produced fourteen novels, eight story collections, and five books of essays, and even if we just explore further into those adapted for the screen, we find a perhaps under-discussed piece of Vonnegutia: Breakfast of Champions, his 1973 follow-up to Slaughterhouse-Five.
The novel examines Dwayne Hoover, a deeply troubled Pontiac salesman obsessed with the writings of pulp sci-fi author Kilgore Trout. You may remember Trout from his role in Vonnegut’s previous book, whose “unstuck-in-time” protagonist Billy Pilgrim he invites to his wedding anniversary. Breakfast of Champions sets Trout on a collision course with Hoover in the fictional American town of Midland City, bringing in a great variety of characters, themes, and elements from Vonnegut’s other work in so doing. In the clip above, you can hear the author’s very first public reading of the book, recorded on May 4, 1970 at New York’s 92nd Street Y. After it became available to readers three years later, Breakfast of Champions would become a favorite among the Vonnegut faithful. The 1999 Bruce Willis-starring film adaptation… less so.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.