by Kurt Vonnegut
Someone I know said "Bluebeard" was the Vonnegut YOU (and by YOU he meant everyone) didn't like. He couldn't have been more wrong. A lot of people say a book really spoke to them, mostly so they can sound smart, but this is one of those rare occasions where I can truly say this book spoke to me. Though it was written over twenty years ago it felt like it was written for me right this moment. (I've mentioned before in other reviews how important timing is in these things. See "On the Road" and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.")
Bluebeard is the story of Rabo Karabekian and it follows the nonlinear storytelling found in other Vonnegut novels like his classic "Slaughterhouse Five." Starting in the present of 1987, Rabo is an old man on Long Island who lives alone in a mansion after his wife died. A younger widow named Circe Berman (who writes controversial young adult books under the handle Polly Madison) appears on Rabo's private beach one day and soon takes up residence in Rabo's house. She convinces him to write his autobiography.
His autobiography begins in California in the late '20s. The son of Turkish Armenians who fled the slaughter of their village, Rabo trains to be a cobbler like his father but discovers he has a talent for drawing. His mother convinces him to write to a famous Russian Armenian named Dan Gregory who's become a famous artist known for his realistic illustrations. (His popularity at that time make him kind of similar to Norman Rockwell, except he's a jerk. Maybe Rockwell was a jerk too. I have no idea.) Gregory's wife Marilee takes notice of Rabo's talent and eventually brings him to Gregory's home in New York. Rabo rides out the Depression under Gregory's mean-spirited teachings, falling in love with Marilee and "Modern Art" (Picasso and his ilk) at the same time.
In time Rabo becomes a lesser-known member of the modern art movement in the '40s and '50s, hanging out with Jackson Pollack and Terry Kitchen and other well-known people who invariably commit suicide. Worse yet, many of Rabo's paintings are destroyed by a very shoddy product so that he seems doomed to be completely forgotten. That is except for a very special item in his former studio, a potato barn on the grounds of his mansion.
For me, as something approximating an artist of the written word, much of Rabo's problems were similar to ones I've faced. I'm certain many artists whether they work with a canvas or clay or marble or paper or words or what have you have felt the frustration and despair at the world failing to take notice of our "gift." But the lesson for any artistic type I gleaned from Rabo's story follows the adage of "Do what you love." Or the more accurate way to put it might be to say, "Do what you care about for the people you care about."
That said, I think this is a great book to read if you're an artist of any sort. If you're not, then you'll probably still be entertained by Vonnegut's witty prose, but you won't get as much out of the reading. You're probably the YOU the person I knew was thinking about.
That is all.