Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Selected Works of TS Spivet

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Selected Works of TS Spivet (Penguin, 2009).

I really, really liked this book, but I did not quite love it. My sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas, correctly sussing - she's quite remarkable this way - that I would be drawn to something so very unusual in structure as this.

The Selected Works of TS Spivet is about a middle school mapmaker, but he's more of a cartographer of the psychosphere around him, "mapping" things that it never occurred to anybody else to map. His gigantic library of volumes contains maps and charts of happenings and occurrences within the realm of his family's old farm in Montana. Painstakingly illustrated and copiously researched, this is not the work of an ordinary little boy, but one whose scholarly ambitions in his very narrow field blind him to the horrible impact that it has had on his family. If the slow, unfolding revelations about the death of Spivet's brother, and the child's feeling about it, don't break your heart, then you don't have one.

Copiously illustrated and annotated with examples of Spivet's maps and legends, the book itself is incredibly impressive and neat. I'm aware that there is a paperback edition available on deep discount at at least one of the larger bookstore chains, but I'd definitely shell out for the hardcover. It has a curious feel between a found object and a college textbook that I adore.

The improbable plot started losing me towards the end. As Spivet makes an unlikely journey to Washington DC to accept an award, things become so extraordinary that there really only seems to be one possible outcome to the story - think about a bridge over Owl Creek, basically - but it just keeps piling up improbable occurrences, one after another, that will leave the young man mapping for many, many years to come. It's a very curious adventure, but the emotional resonance that I was anticipating never comes. I was not entirely thrilled, but I recommend it all the same.

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