The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) – Patrick Rothfuss

Penguin Books. Paperback, 662 Pages 

Although Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind” (2007) was published nearly 10 years ago, it’s taken me 9 of those years to hear about this work. Luckily, that leaves me with some catching up to do because this inaugural fantasy novel is both dynamic and aware of its place within the genre. If you’re a seasoned fantasy reader, this sometimes makes for predictable complications, but the pace is kept up so cunningly and the protagonist’s obstacles so numerous and intricately detailed, that this is easily forgiven. 

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Film Review: Anomalisa (2015)

I’ve been reading a lot of rave reviews about the latest Charlie Kaufman flick, “Anomalisa” (2015) directed with Duke Johnson. As of writing, the film has a coveted 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Kaufman’s art is in capturing, particularly through his writing, the aesthetic of despair. In his films, characters fight the erasure of their memories, build hyper-controlled versions of their realities, struggle to see from others’ eyes — all to grasp at the threads of human connection that have always eluded them. They are heart-wrenching portraits expressed by numb and familiar protagonists.

“Anomalisa” captures some of the same despair at the mundane as Kaufman’s other work. For instance, the hotel which serves as the setting for most of the film is called The Fregoli, and most of the voice acting is performed by a single actor — affectively illustrating a particular paranoid delusion protagonist Michael Stone suffers from. But, I went to the theater looking for a spiritual successor to 2008’s “Synecdoche, New York” with its evolving circular heartache. And despite its brutal depictions, “Anomalisa” is not quite that film.

I could make excuses. “Anomalisa” was first a “sound play” written under a pseudonym (Kaufman’s been trying on a few other art forms since “Synecdoche”) and later became a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. Sometimes in adaptation (no puns intended here), some part of the whole is inevitably lost. I haven’t seen/heard the play. I can’t attest to this. But there is missing at the heart of “Anomalisa” that fails to connect protagonist Michael Stone’s spiraling loneliness to a greater thematic idea.

Indeed, his paranoia was completely lost on some of the loudest moviegoers in my theater, who decided to proclaim “WELL HE’S JUST A NUT,” as soon as the credits rolled.

Meanwhile I stuffed the last of my popcorn down my throat and chewed slowly, saying nothing. Contemplating, because “Anomalisa” is a beautiful movie. Many have focused on its use of stop-motion puppetry, which was artfully done. The city was magically recreated in minuscule form. Because it allowed characters to take on literal other faces and voices, it was a stylistic choice that greatly added to the substance.

In fact, this is easily one of the better movies I saw in 2015. It still left me somewhat disappointed. It still made me wonder, after an incredibly slow first act, where the hell things were going. It’s still got me thinking two weeks later. And it’s still worth seeing, dear reader, if you haven’t yet.

Book Review: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma

Penguin Books. Paperback, 272 Pages

“These stories are all true, but only somewhere else.” Before we even sink our teeth into Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, we know we are entering a world of uncertainties where our narrator is unlikely to be a reliable guide.

Deeply imagined and vibrant characters become the axis around which any numerous details — names, locations, insecurities — may revolve and change, but never become unfamiliar. Even Jansma’s title here gives us some understanding: despite the different lenses his ambitious young writer/narrator may employ, he is both doomed and blessed to tell his own life without changing. As for the friends occupying his triangle —perhaps they are Julian and Evelyn, both vain and impetuous. Perhaps they are other people entirely. Like the many clocks of the airport terminal that the narrator first saw as a boy, each telling of this story contained within the novel tells the time of somewhere else, from which we can imagine the time where we stand. 

But it took perhaps too long to appreciate this style of storytelling, and for me, a while to warm up to it. I became so attached to the first iteration, the narrator’s first shadow of events, that I begrudged the narrator for pulling the curtain away from it later. I felt betrayed. Perhaps this also reflected a loss in momentum around the middle of the novel, when our narrator find himself without his faithful friends and trying on numerous identities to try to find himself again, without them. As retellings of his life began to bleed together more, I did eventually appreciate this flaw in our narrator, even as it was spelled out rather bluntly. 

Unchangeable Spots’ biggest success was in its thematic exploration of what is real, what is false, and whether any of that really matters. Fact and fiction take a backseat to the narrator’s search for identity, which really motivates the spiraling structure and style of this novel. It should be considered a remarkable debut, though not without its own flaws. Jansma’s is a powerful and unique voice worth consideration.