Creating Beauty Amidst Ugliness and Vonnegut’s “Bluebeard”
I recently finished Kurt Vonnegut’s “Bluebeard.” Since high school, Vonnegut has been one of my favorite authors. The love affair started when my step-mother took me to a used book store in Spokane, Washington. To my mild embarrassment, she asked the sole employee, who was what I thought to be a very cool senior at the school where I was a lower classmen, what books he would recommend for an imaginative chap like myself. He recommend Vonnegut, we picked up a red, dog-eared copy of “Cat’s Cradle,” and that was that.
In Bluebeard, Vonnegut rounds up several familiar themes: genocide, the surreality of the modern world, fluid interplay of the past and present, and the less-than-heroic figure taking center stage to tell his story. This curmudgeonly non-hero is wounded World War II veteran and abstract painter Rabo Karabekian. The story is told in his voice, it’s his “hoax autobiography.” Vonnegut uses Rabo’s life story to satirize art movements and the art-as-investment mind-set and to explore the shifting shape of reality.
Critics say this is not among Vonnegut’s best work. I don’t feel comfortable making such a statement, not having read any of his other work for a number of years. I enjoyed this as much as a remember enjoying any of his other works, and it was a fun read. Even steeped in Vonnegut’s borderline nihilistic views and strong satire of the art and literary worlds, this story left me appreciating art, for art’s sake. The painting, writing, creative self-expressions and anything that we do to create beauty where it was absent and make life better for ourselves and others. It is no easy feat to make beauty when created amidst war and even lesser unpleasantries like dirty diapers and soul-sucking jobs. Do whatever you can, I say. Saying that was rather easy. The doing, not so much. Create something, write something, express a feeling to someone and make their day brighter. Because it shouldn’t stay in you, all your life. Easier said than done my friends, but nice to have a reminder.