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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Steven Brust: The Power of Agyar

Steven Brust begins his novel Agyar with a Prologue written by someone to their lover.  No names are given, nor are sexes indicated. He then introduces us to John Agyar, a man who has drifted into a midwestern college town, learns that a professor's house is currently unoccupied, and takes up residence there.  Upon finding an old typewriter in the study, John (who prefers to go by Jack) takes to writing a diary of the time he spends there.  Thus, we glimpse the events of his days through his eyes.  These largely concern his interactions with the three women in his life, and a ghost named Jim who also inhabits the professor's house.

At first glance, Jack doesn't seem like a very nice man.  He drops in on a college girl named Jill at his convenience, and when he discovers that she's seeing another guy, he orders her to cut off the relationship. When she deigns to argue, he forces himself on her until, overwhelmed, she agrees to his demands.  After one such evening, he leaves her in her bedroom, and takes her roommate Susan out for a drink.  She may opt for alcohol, or perhaps a light snack, but Jack sticks with coffee.

While Jack seems intent on dominating Jill physically and psychologically, it's Susan who intrigues him.  He's enthralled by her conversation, and electrified by her presence.  Susan is not put off by the air of mystery that surrounds Jack, and grows equally attracted to him.  After sharing a few conversations with her, the two embark on a physical and loving relationship.  But remember, I said there are three women in Jack's life.

His ghost friend Jim doesn't understand Jack's relationship with Laura, who appears to have drawn the drifter to this college town.  All he knows is what Jack tells him: that Laura is intent upon destroying him.  At first Jack seems nonchalant about this, but as he grows closer to Susan, he decides to investigate newspaper accounts of murders and missing persons in the area, in case Laura should attempt to frame him for a particular crime.  He also sends Laura a message, and when she meets with him, he pleads his case with her.  But Laura remains resolute: she will destroy him.  Jack has no say in the matter.

Having read the reviews on Amazon (which were nearly all positive, with over half assigning the book five stars), I detected no single trigger event that allowed the readers to place the events of the book in their proper context.  So perhaps the revelation comes about solely as a result of seeing the world through Jack's eyes.  Early on, I certainly felt on the outside, as if I were peering through a dust-coated window into the professor's darkened house, attempting to divine the meaning behind Jack's words and actions.  I would put the book down between readings, and wonder what I was missing.  

After one such such reading, I set the book down, and thought about what I had read.  Invisible hands reached out to wipe the dusty windows clear, and the lights in the professor's house shone bright.  Suddenly, I understood why Jack relied on Jill, and why he dominated her every action.  I knew why Jack only drank black coffee, and why the aroma of Susan's food made him slightly nauseous.  I realized why Jack could perceive and interact with a ghost, why he chose to inhabit an empty house, and why he had been drawn by this woman intent on destroying him. 

(Spoiler Alert!)

For Jack was a vampire, and Laura, the woman who had created him, no longer had any use for him.  

Jack never chose to be the type of person he has become: Laura made that choice for him. Nor does Jack feel any malice for Jill: he merely uses her to get what he needs to survive.  Nevertheless, his relationship with Susan changes him, and he becomes a kinder, more generous person.  In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Vlad Taltos, Brust's popular assassin turned wanderer, who can't help but sink his teeth into a mystery, and always flies to the aid of his friends.  

The novel also reminds me of another of Brust's creations, his novel The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, in which the protagonist is changed by the scene he paints.  In Agyar, it is not Jack who paints an evocative image, but Jill.  And because her painting touches him so deeply, he instantly releases her.  For just like a great story, sometimes an image speaks to us so strongly that we are changed merely from having gazed upon it.  It reaches inside us, and corrects something that we did not realize needed to be adjusted.  It heals us, and allows us to begin again, this time seeing the world in a more complete way.

That is the power of fiction, and of art.  That is the power of Agyar.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars

Related Internet Links
Agyar reviews at Amazon

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