By Steve Guntli
Keep a box of tissues handy before digging into this month’s titles. The room might get a little dusty.
Never Let Me Go (2005)
By Kazuo Ishiguro
“Never Let Me Go” is one of the most profoundly sad books I’ve ever read. Deftly blending elements of period romance, high-school drama and sci-fi epic, the novel takes its time getting going, but once the full scope of Kazuo Ishiguro’s central idea is revealed, the effect is devastating.
The story revolves around three characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, who spend their youth at Hailsham, an elite and mysterious private school in the English countryside. The three are friends, and are involved in a standard teenage love triangle: Kathy loves Tommy but can’t admit it, Tommy and Ruth are together but know they shouldn’t be. What makes their story unique is that the children are clones, raised by genetic engineers to donate their vital organs once they’ve matured. The children at Hailsham know who they are, and accept their fate as a matter of course. What makes the novel so heartbreaking is that even though the characters know their lives will be short, they are still unable to grasp the fleeting bits of happiness that are right in front of them.
Ishiguro’s prose is straightforward, almost distant, but the matter-of-factness gives it a strange impact.
25th Hour (2002)
Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee is about as divisive as filmmakers get, and while he certainly has made his share of duds, when he’s on, he’s really, really on. His two best films (the scintillating race drama “Do The Right Thing” and this) are beautifully, vividly alive, and Lee captures New York City better than any filmmaker not named Woody Allen.
“25th Hour” centers on Monty (Edward Norton), a slick criminal who was recently handed a lengthy prison sentence for dealing drugs. Knowing this is going to be his last night of freedom for the next several years, he gathers his two best friends (Barry Pepper and Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) for one last night on the town. Over the course of one long evening, bonds are strained and friendships tested, and the cocky, confident Monty starts to unravel as his fate looms nearer.
The film is exceptional across the board, but the two best scenes are lengthy monologues in the middle and end of the film. In the first, Monty rants into a mirror, venting his bile at every race, creed and neighborhood of New York, before finally turning his rage to his only real target, himself. It’s the second monologue, though, that reduces me to tears every time. Monty’s father, played by Brian Cox, delivers a long, fanciful vision of what would happen if Monty didn’t serve his sentence, if he took the fork in the road that led far away from prison and his mistakes. He could rebuild, start a family, do things right for the first time in his life. The scenario plays out before our eyes as Cox speaks, and the effect is devastatingly powerful.
“The Lost One” (2008)
By Barton Carroll
Barton Carroll’s voice, clear but weary, speaks of long years of hard-won experience, of chances missed and roads not taken. “The Lost One,” the second album from the Oregon-based folk singer, has a confessional feel, as Carroll reminisces on his past and looks towards the future.
The absolute gem of the album is “Those Days Are Gone,” in which Carroll writes a long, melancholy letter to a friend he hasn’t seen in years. In one passage, he sings about the woman and child he left behind, thinking he was meant for bigger and better things but realizing, too late, what he could have had: “I guess the damage is done and there’s no way I can fake it/those days are gone/and my heart is breaking.”
Other tracks speak to Carroll’s regrets (“Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still”), weaknesses (“Pretty Girl’s Going to Ruin My Life Again”) and unflagging optimism (“Brooklyn Girl, You’re Going to be My Bride”). And then there’s “Small Thing,” an emotional gut-punch of a song, told from the perspective of Carroll’s grandmother as she recalls her girlhood experience in war-torn Europe.
Each of these titles is available at the Blaine Public Library. To reserve a copy, visit the local branch or go to wcls.org.