Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Kurt Vonnegut's "Bluebeard: The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988)"

What an interesting book. Vonnegut's 1987 novel is about many things, but it's essentially the diary of Rabo Karabekian, a one-eyed failed Abstract Expressionist painter and how he learns to accept his weaknesses and creativity towards the end of his life. The story skips back and forth between the present narration and the past – his growing up with his Armenian immigrant parents, struggling through an art apprenticeship, his rise and fall in the serious art world. Vonnegut, as always, entertains while pulling off something deep – his glib prose belies the depth behind the thoughts and experience it details. What I found most interesting about the book was the conflict between its generally cynical tone and, in the end, its generally positive message. In this respect, it’s an old persons novel. I'm not really sure how to express it, so let me include some examples. The cynicism:
“A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily communication with nothing but world’s champions.
The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name or him or her. We call him or her an “exhibitionist.”
How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, “Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
And the humanity:
"I think--it is somehow very useful, and maybe even essential, for a fine artist to have to somehow make his peace on the canvas with all the things he cannot do. That is what attracts us to serious paintings, I think: that shortfall, which we might call "personality," or maybe even "pain." "
(More quotes here.) 
Other than Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s other books haven’t always spoken to me. But this little gem of a novel blew me away.

Cross-posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

See also: First Lines of Kurt Vonnegut's "Bluebeard"

No comments: