It might be a bad idea to start my 2014 book review series (I’m calling it Butterfly In The Sky) with one of the coolest books I’ve ever read, because it really will only be downhill from here. But this is the first book I’ve finished so this is what you get.
S. is a book co-created by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. It’s a little difficult to explain, but it’s really three books in one. Let me use the back cover blurb to elucidate further:
A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins and unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.
The book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V.M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched on a disorienting and perilous journey.
The writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumors that swirl around him.
The readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.
So quick recap: S. is the story of two university students communicating about an author and his work through the medium of margin notes in the author’s final book, traded back and forth between the two. So as the reader of S., what you’re holding is the book Ship of Theseus, and aside from being able to read that story, littered in the margins are the notes between Jennifer and Eric. A little confusing, right? These might help.
This is what the reader’s experience is like. Not only do you read Ship of Theseus, but you’re following the story of Jennifer and Eric and their sharing of literary ephemera (like the front page of an issue of their university’s student newspaper, pictured here. Other inserts are a letter written by Straka, a photocopy of a lit/humanities academic journal, various postcards, photos, among many others.) that helps them come closer to solving the mystery of the book and its author.
I’ve never read a book like this. Conceived by J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst, I have to tell you that even if you don’t think the book is awesome, it is a really cool experience. That is basically how I pitch every project J.J. Abrams has ever been involved with, because I love all of them and recommend them all. Even if you don’t like it, it will be a different kind of experience than you’re used to. Lots of people didn’t like Cloverfield (I thought it was outrageously cool), but if nothing else, it was far ahead of the “found-footage” genre. Lost is an extremely polarizing show; but even if you weren’t a die-hard fan who ended up hating the ending, it was a still a TV show unlike anything that had come before.
That’s what this book is like. I decided as I read the foreward (written by F.X. Caldiera, a Straka scholar who is thought by Jennifer and Eric to have hidden secret messages to Straka through his footnotes on the book) and the subsequent margin notes that I wanted to try and separate these two stories before connecting them. So I read Ship of Theseus first, ignoring all footnotes and margin notes. I then went through the book again, focusing on Jennifer and Eric’s story.
As far as the whole story itself goes? Ship Of Theseus isn’t a fiction book I’d totally fall in love with on my own, but in the context of S., it’s pretty awesome. Really though, S. is the story of Jennifer and Eric. They create the heart of this story. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Jennifer and Eric as they learned about each other, as their relationship developed, all while trying to crack the nut of the Straka mystery.
If you are a fan of J.J. Abrams or have some attachment to the medium of physical books, give this one a read. Abrams and Dorst have basically written a love letter to this medium and done something totally unique with it.