Steven Brust & Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy / Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars / Boiled in Lead’s Songs From The Gypsy

Chuck Lipsig penned this magnificent, sprawling review.

The novel was written from the point of view of Greg Kovacs, a struggling artist, who shared studio space with four other struggling artists. The four of them had hoped that working together would provide mutual inspiration for them to become successful artists, who could make a living at what they loved. Unfortunately, three years without success, whether due to lack of time, luck, or skill (the artists weren’t sure which) left them uncertain of their future and on edge. They started to clash and argue about their art, their plans for the future, and just themselves. They considered shutting down the studio and going to work in the real world. But they also considered putting together an exhibit of their work as one last chance to be noticed.

At the same time, the friendships began to fall apart, Greg started a painting on “The Monster,” a huge piece of canvas he had bought to celebrate his one and only sale. Intertwined with this story was the fairy tale of the Gypsy boy, Csucskari, and his brothers, Hollo and Bagoly, and how they set out to put the sun, the moon, and the stars into the sky –a fairy tale apparently told by Greg to his friends.

Brust gave his novel a strong structure with each chapter divided into six sections. In the first section, Greg described some event in his past. In the second section, he discussed how he felt about being an artist and what he thought about when he painted. The third section concerned the interactions of Greg, his fellow artists, and other acquaintances within the studio. In the forth section, the action concentrated on Greg, as he painted on, showing what went into creating a painting on his monster of a canvas. The fifth section advanced the fairy tale about the Gypsy boys. Finally, the sixth section was much like the second, although it tended to put the emphasis more on Greg’s view of the more theoretical aspects of art.

Once upon a time, several years after the novel was written and a few days automobile journey away, there was a reviewer who read The Sun, the Moon, and The Stars and was puzzled. He didn’t really think that it worked as a novel. The Gypsy fairy tale was nice, but the action didn’t intersect with the rest of the novel and, maybe the review was just being dense, but he didn’t really think that it thematically reflected any other part of the story either. Even the painting that Greg was doing was of Greek mythology, not of a Gypsy fairy tale.

And yet the reviewer liked the novel. Well, perhaps that wasn’t quite correct — he responded to it. The reviewer had aspirations of being an author, having finished a novel that he was trying to sell. Much of what the character of Greg said about creating art resonated with the reviewer’s views of writing. The desire to create and the satisfaction of doing so, combined with the frustrations of trying to make such creativity a financially viable occupation, were excellently depicted by Brust. Indeed, the reviewer wondered whether Brust had also been a painter, whether he had just talked to artists until he knew how they thought, whether he simply translated his experiences as a writer into painting, or some combination of the three.

There were some other things the reviewer liked. The characters of Greg and his fellow painters seemed real. The feel of a group of friends starting to fall apart was especially well-depicted. And, if the fairy tale didn’t really fit with the rest of the story, at least it was a fun fairy tale.

Then, the reviewer remembered a passage from the novel he was reviewing. At one point, the novel had discussed that there is a difference between liking something and thinking it is good. The reviewer decided that he liked the novel, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, because it described very well the desire to create through art in a way that resonated with the reviewer’s desire to be an author. But because nothing much really happened in the novel and the Gypsy fairy tale seemed patched in and separate from the other five-sixths of the novel, he didn’t think the novel particularly good. He decided he would recommend it to those who, like himself, aspired to write, paint, or otherwise create, but not to readers without such ambitions.

Normally, that would have been the end of the story, as well as the review. But not in this case. Steven Brust found that the three Gypsy boys of The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars would not go away. Brust was not only a writer, but a musician. He played drums with a group called Cats Laughing and was cowriting songs with Adam Stemple, a fellow member of the group, and together they started writing songs about the Gypsies. Only the songs were not set in the fairy tale world the Gypsy brothers were originally from. Csucskari, Hollo, and Bagoly — now also thought of as the dove, the raven, and the owl — had grown up and crossed over into the author’s world.

So the author invited a fellow author, Megan Lindholm, into his world –or perhaps it was the world of the Gypsies –and together, they wrote a book called, The Gypsy.

This novel centered on a policemen named Mike Stepovich. Approaching middle age, divorced, and coupled with a by-the-book, rookie partner he considers a “dumbshit,” Stepovich wasn’t having the best of times, when he arrested an old Gypsy, who was suspected of murder. Things went from bad to worse when the Gypsy escaped from the police lock-up and a knife Stepovich took from the Gypsy, but forgot to register as evidence, appeared to be the murder weapon in a second murder. Determined to solve the mystery, Stepovich persisted until he found himself in the middle of a battle between the three Gypsy brothers, joined by the mysterious Coachman who brought them from their world to this, and the Fair Lady, Luci, a Devil who is attempting to add this world to her lower domains

The reviewer found himself puzzled by The Gypsy. There was a good story in there, he thought, but not one that was well put together. It seemed as if several scenes were missing. For example, there was a murder case that had happened sixty years before, in which Csucskari had killed someone named Timmy. Timmy appeared to have returned by the time of the novel, but there was no clear explanation as to whether he was brought back to life, if he was a descendent of the original Timmy, or some other option. Stepovich’s daughter went through a transformation from Laurie the schoolgirl to Lorelei the streetwalker, as she came under the influence of Luci. That change was hinted as a strong possibility before the event, but what did finally trigger it was never shown. As such, the transformation came off as sudden, shocking, and unconvincing. Finally, it was never really explained who or what the Coachman was; that might have been excusable, if there were a sequel, but The Gypsy did not appear to have a sequel.

Well, not a normal sequel. There was still the music. Verses from the song cycle that Brust and his friend Stemple had written were used in the novel, as headers for sections within the chapters. One of the songs had even been recorded by Cats Laughing. However, the bulk of them were still unrecorded. Opportunity came from tragedy, as Brust’s brother died of an illness and the insurance money Brust received allowed him to have a CD recorded. By then, Stemple had become lead singer of Boiled in Lead, one of the premier rock and reel groups, and it was this group that recorded the music.

Now, the reviewer had previously reviewed Songs From The Gypsy in the context of Boiled in Lead’s work. However, he had not considered it as part of Brust’s Gypsy cycle. The interesting thing was that the songs did not relate directly to the action in The Gypsy, but were mainly about events before the novel. “Raven, Owl, and I” for example, gave the Dove’s point of view of being brought by the Coachman into this world. Indeed, the song gave a far better feel for the Dove than the novel did, since in the novel the Dove spent most of the time in an addle-headed mist, trying to figure out what he had to do. “No Passenger‚” worked similarly, giving the reviewer much more feel for who the Coachman was than he would have had just through the novel. “The Gypsy‚” vividly described the first killing of Timmy D. sixty years before The Gypsy. On the other hand, “Back in Town‚” seemed to describe another encounter between Timmy D. and –well, someone. Maybe it wasn’t the Dove, the reviewer figured.

In the end, the reviewer had to stand by his previous assessment that Songs From The Gypsy was a fine recording that tied in to and complemented the novel. However, he figured that had he just read the novel without having heard the music, the novel would not have stood on its own.

And hopefully, the author, the band, and the reviewer all lived creatively ever after.

(Tor, 1992)
 (Ace, 1987)
(Omnium, 1995)

About Cat Eldridge

I’m the publisher of Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog.

My current novels are listening to Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, and reading Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on Cat-net and Anthony Boucher’s Murder in the Morgue My current graphic novel is Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted..

I’m listening to a whole bunch of new Celtic and Nordic new releases but I’ll dip in my music collection for such artists as Blowzabella, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and Frifot as the weather goes colder.