So often, I get through reading a novel, and I’m not sure what to say about it. I know that it took me on a journey, but how to condense that journey into a blog entry (or a series of entries) that will resonate with the reader eludes me. I cannot claim superior wisdom upon having finished The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars by Steven Brust, but the novel resonated with me so powerfully that I feel I must share some of what I experienced with you, before those initial impressions fade away.
In the story, we experience life from the point of view of Greg, a struggling painter who values artistic accomplishment over fame and financial success. This is not to say that he does not want the latter, only that, with each of his paintings, he attempts to capture a human moment, a person in transition, and draw the viewer into the subject’s world. Up to this point, he has sold one painting, and with the proceeds of the sale, he purchased a six-by-nine foot stretched canvas. For a year it has rested against a wall while he summoned the courage to tackle it. But now, for no particular reason, he feels ready to tackle this canvas he calls The Monster. So he and his friend pull it out, stack it on two easels, and he begins to paint.
Greg approaches each project differently, and for The Monster, he has no preconceived notion of the important human moment he wants to capture. Thus, he draws upon his past, while incorporating his present circumstances into every stroke of the brush. By utilizing such an unfettered approach, he knows he must always keep in mind basics like structure, form, and perspective. But these constraints also guide him, as he strives to impart substance upon the empty canvas.
As with any Steven Brust novel, there’s more going on than seems immediately apparent. Each chapter adheres to a six-part structure, and each part represents a separate storytelling strand with its own nature and purpose. One part seems to home in on Greg’s past: all the important incidents that led him to become an artist. Others represent his interactions with the other members of his studio, what he views as important in art, and what he tries to capture with each project. Through these we learn of the differing approaches that his fellow artists employ on their art projects, and each method is as unique as the storyteller. I say storyteller because Greg approaches each painting in a similar manner to an author, and also because one of the six parts is a Hungarian fairy tale about three brothers who contract with a king to hang the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky in return for half the kingdom, and the hand of the princess in marriage. While each of the six strands inform each other and form a complete narrative, I also think it would be interesting to reread the novel, this time concentrating on only one strand at a time.
I don’t know how this novel would speak to the average reader, but as an aspiring author, I found it fulfilling because it addressed so many of my own feelings, dilemmas, insecurities, and aspirations. While reviews for the novel are generally positive, some readers have complained that the novel is lacking in plot. To a certain extent they have a point. While Greg is painting, he doesn’t stumble across a corpse and have to solve a murder. He’s not pressed into service by a secret government agency to catch terrorists trading in forgeries of old masters to fund their schemes of hatred and violence. Nor does he learn that his parents were wizards, and get whisked off to a magical university. This is a very different kind of novel, one for anyone who has ever tried to channel all their passion for life into something as formless as a piece of paper or canvas, and in the process hoped to make a positive impact on others. It’s a novel for those who paint, write, draw, make music, film, sculpt, photograph, cross-stitch, quilt, or pursue any other art or craft (No matter how highly or lowly critics assess that particular medium) with the intention of making the recipients of their work think, feel, or see the world a little more completely as a result of their efforts. This isn’t a novel for realists, skeptics, or pessimists, but one for optimists, and those who dream about transforming their world.
I’m glad I met Greg. I know I’m not alone, that I’ve never been alone, but having traveled on this journey with him, I feel less alone. I only wish I did not identify with Greg so completely. For now I'm not only determined to continue writing, but I also want to seek out and read more Hungarian fairy tales, and oh, if only I could paint like Greg!