bluebeardOkay.  So, to start off: I’m so fucked.  Here I am on the last day of August (the day before my deadline) with still a ways to go.  Throughout this whole summer reading thing—for those of you just tuning in: I’m reading all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut—I’ve always said that my goal date to be finished is September 1st…tomorrow.  Shit.

So let’s get to the latest book for me to get under my belt: Bluebeard.  For me, this is the closest thing to a mystery that Vonnegut ever wrote.  As I explained in my post for Galapagos, Vonnegut’s habit of informing his audience on how the novel is going to end (generally in the first chapter) creates an irritating lack of suspense, particularly in the last fifty pages because…well, you know how it’s going to end!  Bluebeard seems to be Vonnegut’s response to such criticism.

Narrated by Rabo Karabekian, the abstract expressionist painter who made an appearance in Breakfast of Champions, the novel gets its title from the Bluebeard fairytale.  The legend tells of a king, or aristocrat, Bluebeard, who repeatedly keeps getting married even though all his wives eventually disappear.  When he does get married (for the umpteenth time), he tells his new bride that she is free to roam anywhere in the castle/mansion, except one specific room.  And of course, each time, the fact she can’t go into that single room piques the bride’s curiosity and drives her desire to see what’s in the there.  When she does manage to open the door and see what’s inside, the wife is shocked to find the room filled with the bodies of all the other wives (all of whom also broke the rule of not looking into the room and thus saw the bodies of their predecessors, as well).  Bluebeard then kills the latest wife/victim, adds her to his expanding collection of dead brides, and begins looking to get married again.

This legend mirrors the mystery of the book: Karabekian’s locked potato barn and former studio, which he has ordered no one to enter.  The novel, which Karabekian writes as his autobiography, explains his origin as the child of survivors from the Turkish Armenian genocide with an apprenticeship to the most famous classically trained artist in the U.S. to his service/capture by the Germans in World War II and eventual member of the abstract expressionist movement in 1950’s and 1960’s, joining the likes of Pollack and Rothko.  The narrative cuts between Karabekian’s life story and his present life in his Hampton mansion filled with the largest modern abstract art collection in the world, where a Baltimore widow/writer/uninvited house guest, Circe Berman, challenges his beliefs on art and everything else in his life.

For what it’s worth, this is one of my favorite Vonnegut novels and also the best of the titles that I’d never heard of before this project.  It does a great job of exploring ideas and themes tied to artistic creativity and even the communities that it creates.  While the “mystery” isn’t the biggest payoff when you finally see what’s locked in the barn, it does a good job of keeping the tension and thus setting the pace for the reader.

So here I am coming up on the last day and two books left to go.  Thankfully, I’m on vacation.  I think I’m going to make it.

UPDATE: I just finished Slapstick a little before 1 AM.  So all I have to do is finish reading Timequake by the end of the day.  I’ll post the reviews for both later.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Just finished Timequake a little before 1:30 PM on September 1st.

[Pic via]