Breakfast of Champions

  • by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Narrated by John Malkovich
  • 6 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Finalist, Best Male Narrator, 2016
Breakfast of Champions (1973) provides frantic, scattershot satire and a collage of Vonnegut's obsessions. His recurring cast of characters and American landscape was perhaps the most controversial of his canon; it was felt by many at the time to be a disappointing successor to Slaughterhouse-Five, which had made Vonnegut's literary reputation.
The core of the novel is Kilgore Trout, a familiar character very deliberately modeled on the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985), a fact that Vonnegut conceded frequently in interviews and that was based upon his own occasional relationship with Sturgeon. Here Kilgore Trout is an itinerant wandering from one science fiction convention to another; he intersects with the protagonist, Dwayne Hoover (one of Vonnegut's typically boosterish, lost, and stupid mid-American characters), and their intersection is the excuse for the evocation of many others, familiar and unfamiliar, dredged from Vonnegut's gallery. The central issue is concerned with intersecting and apposite views of reality, and much of the narrative is filtered through Trout, who is neither certifiably insane nor a visionary writer but can pass for either depending upon Dwayne Hoover's (and Vonnegut's) view of the situation.
America, when this novel was published, was in the throes of Nixon, Watergate, and the unraveling of our intervention in Vietnam; the nation was beginning to fragment ideologically and geographically, and Vonnegut sought to cram all of this dysfunction (and a goofy, desperate kind of hope, the irrational comfort given through the genre of science fiction) into a sprawling narrative whose sense, if any, is situational, not conceptual. Reviews were polarized; the novel was celebrated for its bizarre aspects and became the basis of a Bruce Willis movie adaptation whose reviews were not nearly so polarized. (Most critics hated it.)


Audible Editor Reviews

Editors Select, June 2015 - There's a line in Amy Poehler's Yes Please where she says that 'teenage bodies should be filled with Vonnegut and meatball subs.' That was me. I devoured Vonnegut's unique voice; his genre blending; his irreverence; and, most of all, his dark humor. All of these things are on full display in Breakfast of Champions – a book that, as the narrator deceptively points out at the start, is about the 'meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast,' but is actually so much more. John Malkovich's narration is a true masterstroke. The renowned actor's distinctive voice embodies the charm and menace implicit in Vonnegut's work, especially as the fourth wall crumbles and Vonnegut's omniscient narrator becomes a character in his own book. And so on. —Doug, Audible Editor


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Kurt Was Right to Grade This a C

Breakfast of Champions was the first of Kurt Vonnegut's novels that I read upon its original publication. Like many others, I was introduced to KV via Slaughterhouse-5 and went back and read his entire back catalogue while awaiting his next title. 40 years later, whenever a KV audiobook comes up in a sale, I get it and re-read it in a format that should be, in theory, ideal for conveying his idiosyncratic voice.

My results have been mixed in a specific way -- books I didn't care for as in my younger days (Mother Night, Rosewater) are ones I loved listening to, timeless classics still relevant today, while those long ago dubbed classics (Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions) now come across as dated, juvenile, amateurish.

That I felt that way about BoC is no surprise -- KV himself gave it a C, the second lowest grade he gave his own novels. Listen: he was right. He tells you in the foreword (and he said it again over the years) that this is an exercise in dumping random ideas that were cluttering his brain. It sure reads that way. When he strays from his characters to pursue and purge these thoughts, he loses momentum from what could've been a good straightforward narrative, and he loses me. I'm all for metafiction, but his would've better as straight fiction.

I was hoping this version, with the great actor John Malkovich narrating, would make for a memorable audiobook experience. Malkovich should stick to acting. His deadpan delivery is all wrong -- he sounds like he is reading the lines for the first time. He takes long pauses in the middle of sentences and then runs on to new sentences without pause. I would normally blame myself for setting my expectations too high, but this performance by one of my favorite actors is technically and stylistically bad.

All that said, there are interesting angles for Vonnegut fans. Like Kilgore Trout, KV was dealing with newfound fame following the publication of S-5 and was not sure he wanted to keep writing, themes he explores. He was dealing concurrently with his son's schizophrenia (recounted in Eden Express), hence the primary themes madness, free will, perceptions of reality -- we didn't know about his when the book was published, but in hindsight, looking for this theme helped me get through the mediocrity of the overall work.

Be warned that there is potentially offensive language and subject matter. KV allows the racism of some of his characters to come through with frequent use of the N word, he informs the reader of the dimensions of every male characters' junk, and he also discusses female genitalia in detail.

On the other hand, KV has a genius for distilling things into simplistic language that really packs a punch -- he describes Vietnam as a war to save rice-fueled Asian robots from Communism by dropping things on them from the sky, and defoliants as chemicals used to destroy the trees the rice-fueled robots use to hide from the things dropped on them from the sky. (He doesn't call them Asian, he uses a slur that I will not repeat.)
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- Dubi "People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks."

Classic Vonnegut ; missed opportunity by Malkovich

What didn’t you like about John Malkovich’s performance?

Malkovich's deadpan tone is spot-on. Not spot-on is his frequent misreading of sentences and his weird tendency to run consecutive sentences into each other. I don't think Malkovich had his attention focused on the task. His mind was wandering. This performance was well done in many places, but in many other places it was distracting and off-putting.

If you are unfamiliar with Vonnegut or with this book Breakfast of Champions in particular, then I do *not* recommend listening to this audiobook. It will not make you a fan of Vonnegut.

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- Tim

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-23-2015
  • Publisher: Audible Studios