beware, there be spoilers: Breakfast of Champions

And the year of Vonnegut continues, and entertainingly so.  As he did with his other books, Vonnegut continues to weave familiar characters from earlier books into the book under consideration, with Eliot Rosewater having a minor role.  But herein one of the main characters is our old favourite, Kilgore Trout.

But what I found most interesting was the role of the narrator, the point of view character.  Partway through my reading, I wrote myself a note on the inside cover (and yes, I am one of those who makes notes, relevant to the reading or just random thoughts and ideas, in what I’m reading, as long as the copy is mine).

I asked myself, who is the narrator, because Vonnegut had begun to hint that the narrator stood a bit apart from the other characters.  This came through in part because of how the narrator was reflecting on the events affecting the characters.

And indeed he did.  In Breakfast of Champions, the narrator is the author of the book, and who particularly towards the end takes an active role in the lives of the characters, sometimes while he’s face to face with them.  He shapes their actions.  He introduces things to distract the characters.  But he’s not messing with them for the sake just of messing with them.  Though I’ll admit it’s not entirely clear to me the message the author/character was working to get through to me the reader at the end.

And so, I start to think, and my thoughts go in many different directions.  Might I ever use this particular narrative device, of having the narrator  be the author of the book, who then finds himself or introduces himself into the action of the story.  While I enjoyed reading the book, I think I would find it a hard device to use myself, and I can also see that after a time, reading several different books with the same device might become a bit tiresome, depending on how it’s handled.

And when was such a device first used?  I’m sure there’s a scholarly tome out there somewhere, which traces the history of the author being a character in their own work, and it would be interesting to know.  (And so yes, if you happen to know of such a tome, please let me know.)

There are many ways to tell a story, and this is something that in my own writing I know I can get hung up on.  I set up a scenario, I set the characters in motion, and then I think, ooo but what if I did this, what if I did that, what if they knew this extra thing, what if they didn’t know this important thing, et cetera.  And I find my stories bifurcating again and again, creating a tree of possible stories and I don’t have the capacity to explore all of them.

And so the discipline has to be, explore the ones you can explore and get the words on paper.  And that is my plan for the rest of the afternoon.

~ by Jim Anderson on 5 August 2018.

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