The Name of the Yawn: A Review

It’s my second go-around with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of The Wind. Once, about seven years ago, I gave this novel a shot. I didn’t finish it. It was too…boring. Or maybe I was too distracted to give the novel its due attention.

Now, it’s 2017. A friend recently raved about this book. And I keep reading about how this Rothfuss fellow is poised to become the next George R.R. Martin. Admittedly, I have never read a single Martin novel. But this isn’t about The Game of Thrones books. This is about The Name of the Wind, a book given accolades by no less than Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, and Orson Scott Card (all of whom, I might point out, are also published by DAW).

I am a huge fan of many books published by DAW. Sadly, The Name of the Wind is not one of them. For the most part, the novel reads like a character sketch for a prolonged Dungeons and Dragons session. Don’t get me wrong. I love fantasy novels, I have played my fair share of D&D when I was younger. It’s almost as if Kvothe (pronounced “Quothe”), the main character, is something Heinlein would have dreamed up, and then subsequently aborted. Ditto for the guy who chronicles Kvothe’s tale, a writer who goes by the rather lackluster moniker Chronicler.

The writing is flat. The story goes nowhere. We meet Kvothe who goes by the name of Kote now (clearly, there’s no witness protection program in this universe; otherwise, old Kvothe might have picked a more suitable alias to avoid detection). Kote runs a tavern. One night a guy from town comes in all bloodied up, claiming that his horse has been killed. You will have to read this book (or not) to find out why. Not long after, the Chronicler shows up. And Kote/Kvothe, who apparently has been seeking to avoid recognition, gives in to the quill-toting writer (okay, maybe it’s not a quill he writes with) and his request to put down on paper the mysterious Kvothe’s story.

Moving forward, the narrative shifts to the first person as Kvothe spins his yawn…sorry. I meant yarn. Apparently, there’s just about nothing that old Kvothe hasn’t experienced, from battling evil spider-like demons (there seems to be some debate within the novel about the nature of these creepy crawlers) to shagging a goddess.

In the end, however, the novel is a flat read with next to no conflict and even less character development. In all good fiction, regardless of genre, a reader needs to connect to the main character on some level. This novel did not provide such an experience for this reader. Perhaps if I had been an adolescent boy with no knowledge of sex or good storytelling, for that matter, I might have been duped by this train wreck. But I am not. So, I am off to rid myself of the residue of this book with some Tolkien.

Franny & Zooey, Kenya & Holden

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Seymour once said to me – in a crosstown bus, of all places – that all legitimate religious study must lead to unlearning the differences, the illusory differences, between boys and girls, animals and stones, day and night, heat and cold.”

~J. D. Salinger, Franny & Zooey

So this semester I’m teaching Franny & Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Perhaps a more accurate way of putting this is that I am reading this book again along with my classes (two, actually; not a single student has read the book before now…it’s that…or they don’t want to admit as much).

There are variety of reasons why I love this book; maybe even more so than Catcher in the Rye and that novel, as it did for so many others around the world over many decades, stayed with me for a long time. With Catcher in the Rye, when I was young I identified with Holden’s take on phonies, etc. It wasn’t until I got older, of course, that two things happened. First, I realized that despite what a ton of critics may have written, Salinger was, and remains so at least for me, one fine stylist. Second, there’s great humor in Catcher in the Rye.

This little entry, however, is in part about Salinger and the Glass family. And I might as well put it out there now: Lane Coutell was a great example of ego and the type of personality that is furthest removed from communion with any sort of Absolute. Of course, at least how I see it, Franny & Zooey teaches us that getting closer to God—if any of us are truly capable of such a thing—will not happen through reading so-called holy books.

Having revisited these two long stories, I have become as of late enamored with the idea of characters that cross over from one story to the next. Salinger as an author was not alone in pulling this off. However, his characterization of the Glass family is one that is detailed and original and despite what some of my students think there are lessons to be learned in such a book as Franny & Zooey.

I am thinking that come fall, and the powers that be give me the green light, I want to pair Catcher in the Rye and Asali Solomon‘s Disgruntled on my next syllabus.

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These are two novels decidedly different books on the surface, but they both offer a look, in part, at disillusionment and alienation in adolescence. Moreover, these two novels deal with a young person’s place in the world—though the world Salinger presents in his novel and the one Solomon portrays in her novel exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, and while Salinger’s story of Holden Caulfield begins and ends in adolescence—a rather affluent adolescence, Solomon’s novel takes us on a journey with Kenya Curtis that is much more encompassing.

If you haven’t read Franny & Zooey, I urge you to give it a go. Chances are if you’re reading this then you may have already read Catcher in the Rye (by choice or it may have been assigned to you, even against your will, back in high school at some point). And if you haven’t read Asali Solomon’s Disgruntled please do yourself a favor. Disgruntled is a novel that, in my humble opinion, will be read for a long time to come. I can only hope that Solomon, like Salinger, offers us more stories concerning the people that populate this flawless work.