Picks and Pans Review: Bluebeard

updated 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Kurt Vonnegut

Add to Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Deadeye Dick and a dozen other cult classics this new Vonnegut. It's about the art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, about man's inhumanity and about how women probably could do a better job of just about everything. Rabo Karabekian, an old man, lives in a Long Island mansion, surrounded by a fabulous collection of abstract paintings. One day a pushy novelist who writes for teenagers shows up on his beach and moves in with him. The woman, an energetic widow, badgers Rabo into writing his autobiography. The result is this book, peopled with a raffish assortment of eccentrics. Rabo, like other characters in Vonnegut novels, is a damaged vet of World War II. Even as a child, he could draw brilliantly, and he admired a great illustrator who is a sort of fictional combination of N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. Vonnegut does wonders with the art business. At one point, Rabo recalls a teacher who once explained to him that "it is somehow very useful and maybe even essential for a fine artist to have to somehow make his peace on the canvas with all the things he cannot do. That is what attracts us to serious paintings, I think: that shortfall, which we might call 'personality,' or maybe even 'pain.' " This Bluebeard has a secret locked away in his potato barn, and that provides the suspense. Vonnegut's avuncular style fits his hero perfectly, and to have a Bluebeard become a feminist is, like many of Vonnegut's ideas, a bit of grand inspiration. (Delacorte, $18.95)

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