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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bluebeard (review)

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

Reason for reading: Literary crush on Kurt Vonnegut

Rating: 4.5/5

Summarize the plot: Rabo Karabekian is a retired painter, and he's been bullied into writing his memoirs by the incomparable Circe Berman. Like the Bluebeard of old tales, he keeps a secret locked in his barn.

One sentence review: Vonnegut's wizardry with words makes this character-heavy, plot-light novel completely and utterly readable.

Longer review: I completely gushed over my first Vonnegut read, Slaughterhouse Five, so I figured I would probably enjoy this book as well. I LOVED Bluebeard. Ordinarily, I would not get so excited about a book that jumps all over the place, and barely has a plot, but Vonnegut sucks the reader in with his uniquely enjoyable writing. He has a literary style, but somehow he manages to be so much more accessible than your typical literary novel. Okay, here's the opening lines. I mean, who wouldn't want to keep reading after this opening?
Having written "The End" to this story of my life, I find it prudent to scamper back here to before the beginning, to my front door, so to speak, and to make an apology to arriving guests: "I promised you an autobiography, but something went wrong in the kitchen. It turns out to be a diary of this past troubled summer, too! We can always send out for pizzas if necessary. Come in, come in!"
Rabo Karabekian is a fictional painter who came of age during the American Abstract Expressionist era. His great works of art were created with Sateen DuraLuxe, a paint so toxic and short-lived, his paints have crumbled to dust and no hazardous waste facility wants them. His wife and children are no longer part of his life, and he lives alone in an old mansion.

What I liked: I liked the format of this book. It is split into short sections, and Rabo skips between the past and present, completely nonlinearly, but somehow you never feel lost. I think it helps that he hones down on a few of the themes of his life that are the most important to him, and goes back and forth between how it was in the past and what actually happened.

Rabo's character hooked me in. All of the main characters in his life were vividly written. Although some were outlandish, they never felt unreal. Especially the violent relationship Rabo describes between his painting master and his lover, Marilee, who Rabo secretly loves too. The woman he can't have, the one who gets away. The majority of the novel is focused sharply on her.

What I didn't like: Duh, it wasn't long enough! No, I mean, it was the right length, but when I got to the end, I felt like I didn't really know much more about some of the other people who were important in Rabo's life, like his family or his best friend, a painter who shot himself in the head. By sheer amount of words dedicated to her, it appears that the only important person in his life was Marilee, which I suppose was the point.

Should I read it? In a word, yes.


Nymeth said...

I hadn't heard of this one before, I don't think, but now of course I want to read it. I seriously suspect Vonnegut could do no wrong.

Alice Teh said...

I'm not too sure if I'd read this one but the book sure is interesting. :D