As is likely obvious from the books I write about here on my website, I don’t read too many novels. I often find them dragging. I don’t mean that they’re boring to read, I mean that I start to drag while I read them. I find it difficult to read only one chapter, but the sense that the fictionalized story isn’t contributing anything to the massive pile of responsibilities on my plate makes me antsy to move on. It’s a little like binge watching Netflix—I always want to watch another episode, but it’s only going to make the rest of the day harder.
This was not as much the case with Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard.
Kurt Vonnegut is a favorite of mine, being one of the few authors that can carry a weird story from beginning to end, without the literary equivalent of big CGI explosions and car chases. He tickles the imagination and keeps the narrative interesting and amusing, while almost totally revealing all his major plot points right away.
Bluebeard is a novel ripe with relevant insight for the artist, which is part of what helped it stand out against other novels I might have been tempted to binge-read. Like many of Vonnegut’s stories, it follows parallel timelines, in this case, that of a young and old Rabo Karabekian, an Armenian painter who is talented with realism, but loves impressionism.
“But he lacked the guts or the wisdom, or maybe just the talent, to indicate somehow that time was liquid, that one moment was no more important than any other, and that all moments quickly run away.”
There is a present tension in Rabo’s life between what he loves and what he believes he must love. This is a challenge for all artists. What they should create and what they want to create. Young Rabo, brought to America after his parents miraculously survive genocide, finds himself in New York City, working as an apprentice for his hero Dan Gregory—a famous artist who could paint photorealistic images and who absolutely despised modern art.
As an old man, Rabo battles his internal demons who demand he be one kind of artist, but long for another. He is brought out of his shell by a nosey author of book-mill novels, Circe Bermann, who takes up residence in his home. Through Circe’s overbearing presence, Rabo comes to terms with himself and reveals what is inside his potato barn. It’s a big ass painting.
Bluebeard was excellent, insightful, easy to read and tough to put down. Each of the 37 chapters cost about 10 minutes of my time.