in books, review

loneliness, loss, and latitude: reif larsen’s the selected works of t.s. spivet

Every once in awhile a book comes along that breathes newness.  Even if it reworks something that has been done before (and marginalia has a long history of being a playful place for authors), Selected Works just feels new and young: much like its twelve year old narrator Tecumseh Sparrow (call me T.S.) Spivet.

T.S. is a precocious and detail oriented child.  He defines his world with the maps he draws.  Maps of places: his bedroom, his family’s ranch. Maps of people: his sister’s moods, his father’s facial expressions. Maps of events: rainstorms, historical battles, his brother’s accidental death.  Bound within these maps is a wealth of information and emotion.  More even than the direct narration, these maps are the keys to T.S.’  inner life and history.

This book demands that the reader see the world through T.S.’ eyes.  He has a particular way of looking at the world, and it is to Larsen’s credit that it feels neither forced nor false.  In fact, T.S., mostly, seems to be a typical twelve year old boy.  He plays with the family dog. He, occasionally, torments his older sister. He wants his parents to love him. It is only in his ability to focus on, and reproduce, minute details that T.S. transcends childhood.

T.S. has been making professional maps and drawings for a few years now.  Without his knowing, he has been nominated for, and won, a prestigious award from the Smithsonian.  Soon, he is setting out on a journey beyond the terrain he knows so well. He is carrying a lot of cartography equipment, a journal he took from his mother’s study, and the memory of the brother he lost.

T.S.’ journey takes him across the continental United States by rail and the friendly intervention of a truck driver.  Along the way, he reads the history of his father’s family in the journal his mother had been writing.  These chapters are lovingly penned and work well with the rest of the novel.  They give insight into T.S’ mother, a quiet and struggling scientist, and T.S. himself–it is impossible to dismiss the qualities of focus and curiosity that T.S. has inherited from the long-ago ancestor.

T.S.’ entire journey, and his time in Washington D.C., are chronicled in the marginalia and the page. This is a book with lines that beg to be traced and illustrations that beg for a microscope to study them.  T.S. is a character who by turns charms, investigates, and loves the world around him.

(I also feel I should mention that this book did make me think of Marisha Pessl’s wonderful “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” which also uses a unique (though more adult) worldview and illustrations.  And is wonderful.)