'Look,' she said wearily from the stairs. I was leaning against the stove, studying her stupid sneakers. My arms crossed, my soul leaden with sorrow. 'I just don't want to approach you too fast. I know you don't like journalists. I saw you on TV: slamming the door? That's why I was watching…'
'Oh, admit it: you were being mysterious and romantic.'
'Jesus!' One of her little sneaks gave a little stomp. 'You sound just like my father.'
Fortunately, this arrow went directly through my heart and came out the other side, so there was no need to have it surgically removed, which can be expensive….
Back in 1985, the young author Andrew Klavan had a novel published in England which didn't find a home in the U.S. This novel is Agnes Mallory, which is now, thankfully, available in a Kindle edition from Mysterious Press.
The narrator of the story is Harry Bernard. Harry lives in a secluded cabin, outside the New York suburb of Westchester. He is a recluse, a broken man, a disbarred lawyer who has left his family behind.
He wants nothing to do with the young woman who follows him home one evening, in the rain. Klavan introduces her in such a way that the reader isn't sure at first whether she's real or a ghost. And that's appropriate, since this is a kind of a ghost story—but the ghosts are the memories we carry with us and the dreams we've buried in the cellar.
Because once Harry Bernard was a little boy who dreamed of virtue and heroism. He met a little girl named Agnes, who shaped wonderful figures out of clay. He became her friend, and then they were torn apart by forces they could not understand. And when they came together at last, years later, he was on the run from the police and she was on the brink of tragic celebrity, and their reunion was a deadly collision of hopeless yearnings and unsatisfied needs.
Andrew Klavan is a Christian now, but he wasn't when he wrote Agnes Mallory. I can't say that his future trajectory of belief could be predicted from this book, but I can say that he asks the right questions. He wrestles with the disconnect between our yearnings and our moral aspirations, as contrasted with our imperfect nature and our selfishness. Behind all looms the specter of the Holocaust—an event Harry's family won't think about and Agnes's family can't forget.
I loved this book. Of course I love (almost) all Klavan's books. He knows how to make you feel cold and heat, he thumbs his nose at contemporary proprieties, and he knows when to clown a bit to relieve the tension. I recommend Agnes Mallory highly, for those who have a stomach for the numerous profanities and the earthy treatment of sex.
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.