Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, who, at age seventy-one, wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn. But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story—and Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain, heart-hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves.
In this, the most intimate of Vonnegut's 13 novels, he brings back ``the erstwhile American painter Rabo Karabekian, a one-eyed man'' who played a minor role in Breakfast of Champions. At 71, Karabekian is leading an oyster's life, albeit in an East Hampton mansion stocked with modern masterpieces. Most of the friends with whom he launched the Abstract Expressionist movement have died, as has his wife of many years; his faith in his artistic ability has vanished as well. It remains for an irritant in the form of a determined younger woman to oust his customary melancholy. Circe Berman is an author of teenage fiction with ``relevant'' themes and a rearranger of Karabekian's home and creative energies. She soon has him writing his memoirs, which he titles Bluebeard; and it is a pearl of a book. Karabekian recalls his parents' exodus to California from Turkish Armenia following the first mass murder of what will become ``the genocide century,'' his introduction to both art and sex during an apprenticeship with a mad New York illustrator, Gregory, and his mistress, Marilee, the loss of his eye and a few more illusions in World War II and his subsequent role as an artist manque. Like lost lives, Karabekian's is a constant blending of regret and hope but Vonnegut has graced it with a touching denouement that suggests that even in our own particular kingdom of the blind, a one-eyed man can be king. (October)