Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things: When a Story is Not a Story

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Patrick Rothfuss prefaces The Slow Regard of Silent Things by saying that this is not the third book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, that it’s not like his other books, and that “this book might not be for you.” He ends it by confessing his fears that this book would not be well received, that he thought this story would be unwanted by readers and editors

I didn’t jump on this book when it was first published (I unwisely thought that, having just finished Wise Man’s Fear a month earlier, I could patiently wait till the price dropped). I had friends to recommend the book to me before I bought it, and the criticism I was hearing about this book was primarily that it was not what the reader had expected (which usually I attribute to reader error more than author error—but having read the book, maybe just this once, it was at least partially the book’s fault).

This book was not what I expected because as Rothfuss himself says it’s not what you expect of a story; it has none of the framework that we’ve been taught to call “story.” As I read it, I kept waiting for it to become what I expected. It did not. The story is not cohesive. It does not have an arc. It is only loosely held together by an idea in Auri’s mind that she must find gifts for Kvothe before he next comes. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a collection of vignettes more than anything perhaps and a tour of a world below the surface of the series that I’ve come to love.  This is exploration.

But it wasn’t the plots of The Kingkiller Chronicles books that caught me either, and the same wordsmith is here to tangle words together in creative new ways—now with a very different puppet. Kvothe (POV character of The Kingkiller Chronicles) is careful. Each word is weighed and measured and planned and meant to provoke a certain emotion and scene and image. He is, as he’ll remind you, Edema Ruh first, and the Ruh are performers and storytellers. I think Auri is actually the more reliable narrator. Maybe partially because Auri in this story has an audience she cannot manipulate. The silent universe judges her every move. She feels that judgment, knows when something is amiss, and she knows how to fix it, but she cannot put on a false face for the universe.

We’re told Auri is half-mad, but the method behind the madness, revealed when she becomes here a narrator, makes more sense than a lot of other worldviews. Auri moves through the universe sensing when things are off-balance and seeking to fix the imbalances, and to that purpose she seeks to lose self to All Else.

Rothfuss says that as he let friends and later others read the story, the feedback often amounted to “I don’t know what other people will think. They probably won’t like it. But I like it” (158). Rothfuss marvels at this and cites his empathy with her as the root of his fondness for Auri. “I cannot help but wonder how many of us walk through our lives, day after day, feeling slightly broken and alone, surrounded all the time by others who feel exactly the same way” (158). In some ways, this first reading, the endnote to this book made me feel more than did the book itself because it made all the rest make sense, and it was a rare glimpse into a writer’s fears and doubts.

Knowing now what this story is and is not, I’m looking forward to a second reading.

Read this story for the language, read it to ease a sense of loneliness, read it for a new perspective. Read it for meaning if you like but don’t expect to have the lessons handed to you Dumbledore-style. Expect to have to work for your meaning by examining one object and one sentence for several slow minutes and then letting it all flow together into a greater whole. Don’t read it as you read any other story. Don’t read it for plot. Don’t look for humor. Don’t expect a usual experience, and maybe you won’t be disappointed.

****

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Illus. Nate Taylor. New York: DAW-Penguin, 2014.

This review is not endorsed by Patrick Rothfuss, Nate Taylor, DAW Books, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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