A Story for Broken People — THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss does an awful lot of apologizing in both the foreword and endnote to THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS.

The foreword begins by telling you that you might not want to buy this book, and if you haven’t read THE NAME OF THE WIND and THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, you might be better off starting there. This is probably fair — I think you can enjoy SLOW REGARD without having read Rothfuss’s previous two novels, but I think the context those novels provide is important. In the endnote, he goes into even more detail, describing a conversation he had with an advance reader who liked the book. Rothfuss responds by explaining why no one else would feel the same way:

“You see, people expect certain things from a story,” I explained. “You can leave out one or two if you step carefully, but you can’t ditch all of them. … People are going to read this and be pissed.”

“Let those other people have their normal stories,” Vi said. “This story isn’t for them. This is my story. This story is for people like me.”

On the one hand, Rothfuss’s warning is fair — if you purchase SLOW REGARD to see the plot from THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLES advance, you’ll be disappointed. This is a very quiet character study stretched out over 176 pages. It’s a chronicle of a week in Auri’s life, with no dialogue, no action scenes, nothing but the lonely days of a broken girl who has pieced herself back together as best she can.

On the other hand, I wish Rothfuss and others would take a lesson from his story’s protagonist and simply allow things to be what they are. No, this isn’t the third KINGKILLER novel. It’s not a tale of adventure. It’s not even told in first-person. It is what it is — a glimpse into the life of Auri, perhaps the most curious character in the series.

Rothfuss’s tremendous care with words is on full display here as Auri’s days are spent searching the Underthing for abandoned knick knacks and supplies. She ascribes character attributes to each object, placing great importance on finding the proper place for everything, yet firmly rebuking herself any time she begins to think about how these things might serve her. She takes great joy in many simple things, such as the food and items she scavenges, or the soap she makes, but at the same time we get a peek behind the pain. This is a character who spends much of the story finding the proper place for the items she has collected, considering and discovering their “true” nature, but she seems to know that she herself is broken, and that makes her lonely. It’s a side of her I don’t remember seeing in THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLES, and I’m glad this story gave us a glimpse of that side of her.

It’s a story not unlike Auri herself — curious, unstructured, yet surprisingly sweet, and honestly, who would begin reading a story about Auri and expect it follow the rules? To provide answers? It may not give you concrete answers as to how Auri became the fae-like girl we’ve come to know, but it gave us glimpses, and for me, that was more than I ever felt entitled to. To be honest, as Auri went about her week in the Underthing, I was surprised at how well Rothfuss pulled these seemingly random events together at the end. I’m not certain those who say there’s no plot to the story are correct — it’s just not the kind of plot we’re accustomed to, and to me, that’s okay.

At times, it’s heart-breaking to see the things that cause her the greatest panic — a moment of fear when she hears a sound and believes she may be discovered, her misery when a skunk comes and eats some of her precious few belongings, the times when she weeps herself to sleep. Auri is a broken little girl with no one to protect her, and even if Kvothe cares for her, it’s clear that he is of far more import to her life than she is to him, as she spends much of the week considering what presents she might present to him when next he comes to play his lute outside the Underthing, and seems to have scheduled her entire week around when she guesses he will visit next.

As Rothfuss says in his endnote, this story is for all the slightly broken people out there. It’s about a small girl living by herself, who just wants to carve a small niche in the world for herself, someplace quiet and out of the way, so she can be safe. I think anyone who has ever felt small and alone and afraid can relate.

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