13 August 2011

Bonnie made a joke now as she served him his martini.

When I was a freshman in college I was assigned THE CRYING OF LOT 49 in my fiction-writing class. The instructor was terrific but he didn't understand why we didn't warm more to Pynchon's most accessible work.

"The last time I taught this, my students were drawing the [not really a spoiler] post horn on everything," he said, with a head-tilt of disappointment. 

For about two-thirds of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS I did not see what the fuss was about, but when the final character was added to the mix -- one who in a sense had been there all along, but not participating -- it finally clicked for me, and it was so good. And the next day I found myself in a meeting doodling "Goodbye, Blue Monday" at the top of my to-do list. Like a symphonic motif, it recurs until you realize its function all along.

The skeleton of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is the gradual unraveling of car dealer Dwayne Hoover under the influence of little known pulp novelist Kilgore Trout. Trout began his career writing science-fiction filler for pornographic magazines; since it was assumed no one was reading his work, his style evolved along its own weird but highly allegorical path. Trout comes to Midland City, where Dwayne Hoover lives, at the behest of a local millionaire who wants him to speak at their arts festival -- even though he's fairly sure they're making fun of him.

Vonnegut's satiric target in this one is much wider than SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, almost too diffuse -- probably the reason I had trouble gripping onto this one. I'm not saying any of them were unjustified, but it tends to dilute the power. Which is interesting in light of the author's recent book ban in Republic, Missouri, in which school board member Wesley Scroggins criticizes SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE for basically that, containing a wide range of offensive material (and profanity!) while not even mentioning what the book is about which is, at its heart, wartime atrocities specifically those committed by the Allies. I learned more about the bombing of Dresden from Vonnegut than from either AP US or European History. Might as well shear those off, too.

The turn in BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS doesn't promise (threaten?) the same realization, but it's almost as powerful.

The Internets inform me that this book has been made into a movie with the oddest-looking cast ever. (Barbara Hershey and Omar Epps? Forsooth!) There is also a bar in Bushwick called Goodbye Blue Monday and I will probably have to go there.

Illustration: Well Said

1 comment:

Marjorie said...

There's also a Goodbye Blue Monday coffeehouse in Northfield, Minn. I went there a couple times when I was in town and idly wondered what the story was behind the name, but I assumed it was some kind of local inside joke.