These are adults! Older than I am! Presumably educated! How have they made it this far without understanding basic sentence structure and comma usage? How have they made it this far without recognizing that January 21 comes before January 27?
It is absolutely fucking mindboggling.
Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a strange book, unlike any I've read. My only previous exposure to Kurt Vonnegut was Slaughterhouse-Five back in high school, so I knew that he was an oddball, but damn.
In the beginning of the book, we learn that a Pontiac salesman named Dwayne Hoover reads a science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout and, believing the book to be truth, goes on an insane rampage. That sounds like an interesting concept, right? Let's find out what happens.
...Except the book is actually about the events that lead up to that meeting. And it's not really about that either, because this book doesn't really have a plot.
Which is okay because the style is goddamn hilarious. The narrator is Vonnegut himself, an omniscient presence who explains the most basic concepts in simple terms, as if he is telling the story to the last human beings alive after Earth has been obliterated. The book is essentially an excuse for Vonnegut to riff satirically on everything from penis size to racism. It's very much a book of its time; he paints a portrait of 1970s America and then takes the piss out of it. Of course, he acknowledges that he is the author of the book and the characters are fictional, which adds a fun metafictional layer to the proceedings. That doesn't make his satirical criticisms any less relevant, however.
Stanley Tucci really captures the dry, blunt humor of Vonnegut's narration, making it even funnier than it would be on the page. Unfortunately, the print version also has Vonnegut's hand-drawn illustrations, which can't be appreciated in an audiobook.
The book kind of goes off at the rails at the end, and whatever plot there is sort of fizzles out, but it's a very entertaining, wacky journey. It's wonderful when a writer has such an unorthodox voice and gets away with it.
Cat's Cradle, considered a Kurt Vonnegut favorite by many, starts off promisingly enough. The narrator decides to write a book about what important Americans were doing at the time the atomic bomb was dropped, and he finds himself very interested in the life and family of the (fictional) man who invented the bomb, Felix Hoenikker, a man who also invented something else: ice-nine, a substance that turns water instantly into ice. There's a good story here about scientists and science, but it then shifts the action to a fictional Caribbean island that is home to a fictional religion called Bokononism, and it lost my interest.
Bokononism itself is pretty amusing, and Vonnegut makes up plenty of silly words and concepts, some of them actually rather profound in their absurdity, but most of the time, the absurdism of the novel didn't really reach me. I could enjoy the absurdism of Breakfast of Champions because it was frickin' hilarious most of the time, and I didn't care that there was barely a plot because it became clear early on that it wasn't really that kind of book. But Cat's Cradle teased me with a narrative and kept stringing me along; I wasn't sure what the story of the book was supposed to be. I enjoyed parts of it along the way, but when it was over, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
Tony Roberts captures Vonnegut's unique authorial voice well, and he also gives distinct voices to the characters, which I always appreciate in a reader. Kurt Vonnegut is one of a kind, that's for sure: I cannot think of a single writer who writes anything like him at all. I feel like I should like him a lot more than I do.