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Review: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet May 8, 2009

Posted by Sandy in Book Reviews.
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The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen

Want the short review? I’m fairly confident in calling this my favorite novel of the year. You should read it–you’ll love it, too.

Want the longer version? Here it is:

Tecumseh Sparrow “T.S.” Spivet is always making maps. He maps water tables, bird migrations, his room, his home state of Montana, the paths of dreams and conversations, and the motions of his sister shucking corn. His maps have won him the attention of the Smithsonian Institution and the prestigious Baird Award. The only problem with this is that T.S. is only 12 years old and doesn’t have a way to get from Montana to Washington, D.C. to accept the award. Well, there is one way, which is to hop a train, like the hobos he’s learned about in school.

During his journey, T.S. reflects on his life’s work and on his family, from whom he feels distanced. His mother is withdrawn into her scientific studies, his tough and practical rancher father can’t understand the bookish T.S., his older sister is more sympathetic but often self-centered in a teenage, can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-here way. Then, there’s Layton, T.S.’s beloved younger brother, whose death constantly hovers in T.S.’s thoughts.

In T.S., Reif Larsen (who apparently made quite the stir in the publishing world with his debut) has created a character with a wholly original and memorable voice. I loved that, even though he is a tremendously intelligent child, Larsen stops short of the unbelievably precocious by retaining T.S.’s childish sense of wonder, excitement, and fear. This was a character I was willing to follow, wherever he decided to take me, which included many stops in the margins, where a good deal of the story is told. This is what makes the book truly unique—the margins are full of T.S.’s maps, drawings, and explanatory notes. The author describes these as “exploded hyper text,” but my initial comparison (suggested by the boy’s destination) was to descriptive plaques in a museum, offering the deeper story behind the scene or object in front of you.

It is a story beautifully told and also beautifully presented—the book is slightly oversized, with a gorgeous dust jacket and embossed cover (plus all of the marginal illustrations inside)–it’s the kind of book that makes you want to run your hands over it, pore over the illustrations, and maybe give it a hug. (Yes, I did those things when I took it out of the box. You might be able to guess that I haven’t become an e-book convert.)

So, there it is–favorite book of the year; buy a copy–buy two, because once you’re finished, you’ll want to share it (but you won’t want to give up your copy).

I recommend visiting the book’s very cool interactive website. Be sure to give yourself some time to explore!


1. bilks - May 13, 2009

Hey Sandy, glad you loved it as much as me! I have to ask, did you read the final printed version or an advanced proof? I was lucky enough to get an early manuscript and I only just looked at the final version last week to discover that they took out the entire epilogue! It changed the way you looked at the whole book and made you re-examine everything in the story. I won’t spell it out on your blog because it will contain spoilers, except to say that it was a post script written by the head of the Smithsonian explaining that TS disappeared after the events in the book and the book you have just read is a selection of his work prepared for a retrospective exhibition of his work. I will post it in my own blog with a spoiler warning so you can read it in full.

I guess it was deemed too ‘metaphysical’ and difficult for a general audience but I’m deeply saddened that it was taken out as it added a huge new layer onto the book and actually gave meaning to the title “The SELECTED WORKS of TS Spivet”. It raises the question that perhaps the whole narrative had been selectively chosen in yet a further manipulation of TS by the Smithsonian.

bilks - May 13, 2009

Oops, sorry, just checked and the Afterward is actually written by Dr Yorn, not Mr Yorn. I actually read this book back before Christmas so the memory is playing tricks on me. I’ll still put it up on my blog though so you can check it out for yourself.

bilks - May 14, 2009

Man, I should know better than to right on other people’s blogs when I haven’t had much sleep. I meant to say:

“Afterword is actually written by Dr Yorn, not Mr Jibsen.”

Anyway, the Afterword is up if you want to check it out. Reading it back I can see why they dropped it, but I still think it’s interesting to see where Larsen was going with it. Link below:


2. Links Galore, or Ways to Pass the Time till the Weekend Starts « Written in the Stars - May 15, 2009

[…] to my review last week of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, one writer explains why he can’t take another book […]

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