One of the great pleasures of reading is finding the rare book that really speaks to you. There are lots of great books around, and certainly no shortage of page-turners entertaining enough to blast through in a few days, but the few books that connect with something in your own personal experience are a special kind of treat.
For me, The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars is such a book. There were lots of little things that I could relate to, from the martial arts references to the accurate depiction of the sometimes painstaking, sometimes mesmerizing artistic process—even the folktale told piecemeal throughout the main narrative brought me fluttering back to the nights of my childhood with my copy of The Book of Goodnight Stories and all the delightful fairy tales within it. Anyone who creates artistically can find something to relate to in this book and its central theme: what does it mean to be successful as an artist?
As with the rest of Brust’s work, The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars is hard to summarize as parts separate from the whole; like a spider’s web, when you start picking at one thread, it vibrates over to the next and the next until the whole thing is jiggling. The interconnection of each new string of the story loops together elegantly into the next, seemingly at random, but a pattern eventually emerges with rhyme and reason and assuredness that makes a reader comfortable in the knowledge that the author knows exactly where this is going.
The first person narration tells the story of Greg, an artist struggling (as most artists—and indeed most people—do at one point or another) with financial, directional and relationship difficulties. He and his friends have an art studio that they can barely keep up the rent on, their works aren’t selling, and their last and only chance of being recognized could optimistically be expressed as a shot in the dark. As stress grows, tensions snap over what is good, worthwhile art, and when—if ever—one should give up the dream. In the midst of it all, Greg works on his personal project: the Monster—a giant canvas that calls for a certain kind of painting, whatever that might be.
Throughout the main story arc the reader is given short glimpses of Greg’s past that make the characters pop alive on the pages. Each chapter also gives the reader a little look into Greg’s artistic mind—what it means to create art, the purpose of art and the often bare-souled road of discovery which that insight sometimes requires.
Then there’s the folktale element of the story. While not directly paralleling the main plot (that I could see, but I’ve always been terrible at literary analysis) it intersects in small ways that put a smile on my face.
Csucskári the Gypsy and his two brothers have been tasked by the king to place the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky to bring light to a world that exists only in darkness. Luckily for them, Csucskári is a taltos and clever to boot, as there are a multitude of dangerous obstacles waiting for them on their quest. I won’t summarize it further because I think these kinds of stories lose a lot of their charm in summation, but it has all the elements of the folk stories that I loved as a child, from repetition to active narrator to the nonsense logic that somehow makes perfect sense. Far from making the book as a whole awkward to read, the folktale parts were as enjoyable and anticipated as Greg’s own storyline.
But the real treat of the book is Brust’s writing style. He has a way of creating flawed yet affable characters that, in conjunction with first person narration, translates to a very real, very human voice. Additionally, the way the story is parceled out, in a broken, non-linear fashion keeps reader attention high for the next spotlight to be turned on and throw the shadows off another corner of the stage.
“If you’re going to paint a pretty landscape, at least give the viewer something to do. In this you aren’t suggesting anything, you’re just making the statement, ‘It was a nice day at the park.’ Well, so what?”
There are plenty of little parallels like the one above between painting and writing, or music making, or sculpture, or cooking, or whatever form of art you can think of to be found in this book. In the end, the message remains that art, in whatever incarnation it takes, has the shared function of connecting people in emotion and experience.
As artistic creators, we put a piece of our soul into everything we make. A piece of who we are is preserved in paint, or word, or sound, to be interpreted—for better or worse—by whoever comes across it. There is a shared human experience that is a conduit through which art can reach people across time, language, race, gender, etc. and in this way, connects us to those we might otherwise share little with.
I set up my easel and sculpt a tune of mixed metaphor.
This is perhaps the best summation of the book, and without a doubt my favorite line within it. As different as the mediums may be, all art forms have the same power to connect people to each other. To that end, I think this book serves its purpose rather well.