the Little Red Reviewer

Agyar, by Steven Brust

Posted on: March 22, 2013

agyar-197x300Agyar, by Steven Brust

published in 1993

where I got it: purchased used

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Ladies, John Agyar is the kind of man your mother warned you against.  He’s charming and mysterious, and he only wants one thing from the beautiful young women he flirts with.

Some of you may have already stopped reading, because you’re not interested in *that* kind of character. As a reward to those of you still reading, I’d like to share with you the thought that screamed through my head around the halfway point of the book: “holy shit, that’s what’s been going on all this time!?”

Squatting in an abandoned house, John is told there is a typewriter in an upstairs room, and he therapeutically begins to write. At first, he just records his conversations with the boring residents of this sleepy Ohio town.  As he gains comfort with the idea of writing as therapy, and with the idea of his housemate Jim actually reading these typewritten pages, he begins to add in more important details.  The pages of Agyar are those typewritten pages.

Here’s the thing through – This is John’s diary, and he talks about what he feels like talking about. He’s under no obligation to tell you anything important.  You’ve got to figure that part out for yourself.   In so many books the story is in the ink, in the words, on the pages.  In Agyar, everything important is between the lines. If you look close, it’s all there. As per usual, this review may be more vague than needed.  I type the wrong word, and I spoil the surprise. (whatever you do, don’t read review of this book on Amazon. the surprise is spoiled instantly, and in the most unkind way)

John’s come to this little Ohio town after receiving a missive from his ex-lover, Laura. She desperately needs his help, and when Laura calls, John can’t help but come to her aid. It’s not exactly love between them, but still, she has him entangled.  Laura isn’t jealous when John begins a relationship with the young and beautiful college student Susan.  Laura may have loved John at one time, but their physical relationship ended years ago. If John was able, he’d leave Laura behind forever.

But Agyar isn’t about a love triangle.  It’s about shattering the triangle, about escaping every angle.

I’m making the book sound like a romance, and it’s not that, not at all.  It’s a psychological thriller/horror, with some self discovery thrown in for good measure.  Laura has the ability to utterly destroy John. And she’ll succeed too, unless John can learn how to destroy a piece of himself first.

Ever come across a subtlety so sharp that you’re bleeding to death before you realize you’ve been cut? The twist in Agyar isn’t about the reveal, but about how it’s been presented starting on the first page. The twist in Agyar  isn’t something that happens to the characters, it’s something that happens to the reader, the moment the reader realizes what’s been happening. The shape of the story changes, depending on the exact moment the reader connects all the dots. It’s a literary magic, a deliberateness, a brilliant and purposeful focus on the negative space that is not easily accomplished.

That said, Agyar isn’t for everybody. John isn’t exactly a likeable character, although he becomes more likeable as the novel progresses. Or maybe I just started feeling bad for him once I knew what was going on?  If you prefer books where everything is laid out for you in the first chapter, where you know what you’re getting yourself into,  or if unreliable (or very secretive) narrators annoy you, it’s probably best if you just skip this book.

I’ve been on quite the Steven Brust kick lately, catching up on books in Vlad Taltos series, trying to psych myself up to read The Phoenix Guards and the other “prequels”.  Agyar is a stand alone novel, a contemporary thriller.   Even better, if you’ve never read a Brust, Agyar is an excellent place to start to get a feel for his writing style.

One of these days I really need to do a “why you should be reading Steven Brust” post.

If you have read Agyar, please, no spoilers in the comments.  That this book not be spoiled for anyone is very important to me. So important in fact, that I will edit/delete comments that have spoilers.  I’ve never threatened to do that before.

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9 Responses to "Agyar, by Steven Brust"

Well, damn. Now I need to find this one too … ;)

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Well, based on your review, this is now a must read for me!

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Ummm….wow! I now need to read this one; I am super curious.

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I can’t remember which edition it was, but it was irritating when I bought a copy of Agyar for someone and had to tell them “By the way, _do not_ read the back cover.”

Who spoils their own book in the back cover blurb!?

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It wouldn’t be the first book that was somewhat spoiled by the back cover. Do you have the hardback first edition? I have a mass market paperback, and the blurb on the back doesn’t spoil anything, but it’s a weird blurb. Makes the book sound like a straight up romance.

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I had forgotten about this book until your post, and yes, I remember very well the moment it clicked with me what he was talking about, and how blown away I was when I realised what had been going on

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pretty damn amazing moment, wasn’t it?

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Looks so interesting! I’m tempted, although I’m usually pretty dense when it comes to thrillers so I wonder if I’d get what was going on!

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Don’t worry about it for a minute, by the end you’ll know exactly what’s going on. Brust has designed the book so you can figure it out.

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