By Steve Guntli
Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, a time to share personal stories and to look back on the journeys that have taken you this far. This month’s selections reflect their own journeys, both personal and epic.
“The Name of the Wind” (2007)
By Patrick Rothfuss
The first part in a planned trilogy, this imaginative and addictive fantasy adventure will tide over anyone suffering from “Game of Thrones” withdrawal.
The novel draws from many familiar elements (a little bit “Harry Potter,” a little bit “Lord of the Rings”), but its style and execution are wholly original. Legendary hero Kvothe recalls his life story to a traveling writer, separating the facts from the myths that have sprung up around him. This early chapter focuses mostly on the tragic fate of his family and his hard-earned struggle for admittance to a prestigious magical academy.
It’s a crisp, clean adventure story, never too serious or complicated but always engaging, and it gets even better in the sequel, “The Wise Man’s Fear.” Now, if he’d only release that third book already…
“The Straight Story” (1999)
Directed by David Lynch
Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), an old man living in rural Iowa, learns that his estranged brother has come down with a terminal illness. Unable to drive and in poor health, the stubborn 73-year-old decides he’s going to get to his brother in Wisconsin any way he can, so he straps a small trailer to his riding lawnmower and sets off, very slowly, on a 400-mile journey.
The simplicity of this story is all the more amazing because David Lynch, the creator of “Twin Peaks” and a master of surrealist horror, directed the film. There are no weird flourishes or thick layers of symbolism on display, just a sweet and surprisingly engrossing film.
This story evokes a quiet sense of sadness, as the viewer gets the impression that this may be a one-way trip for Alvin; but he’s never portrayed as a tragic figure, just a strong man with a matter-of-fact attitude towards the world. Farnsworth, a long-time Hollywood stunt man, is phenomenal in his final role.
“The Sunset Tree” (2005)
The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle, the singer-songwriter force of nature behind The Mountain Goats, is perhaps the best songwriter living today, and “The Sunset Tree” is his absolute masterpiece.
Deeply personal, achingly beautiful and mordantly funny, the album serves as a bittersweet tribute to Darnielle’s abusive stepfather, who died shortly before the album was released. At his stepfather’s hands, Darnielle endured physical and emotional violence that led to drug addiction and homelessness, but also shaped him into the musician and writer he is today.
Darnielle poignantly recalls growing up amidst the abuse with the incongruously catchy “This Year” and “Dance Music,” indulges his basest revenge fantasies with “Lion’s Teeth,” and finds the will to forgive in the album’s closing tracks, “Love Love Love” and “Pale Green Things.” It’s a haunting, enduring work, destined to be a classic.
Each of these titles is available through the Blaine Public Library. To reserve a copy, visit the local branch or go online to wcls.org.