I liked the look of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen from the moment I first saw it. The book itself is a beautiful production. There’s illustrations on most pages, as well as end-papers and covers, wonderful ink drawings filled with commentary and wit. Even better, nearly every page has further excursions into side-notes or footnotes wandering around the discursive narrative. I even liked the story.
T. S. Spivet is the eccentric son of a line of eccentric Spivets. He is so obsessed with maps and drawing and annotations, it seems strange that he never mentions Edward Tufte. Toward the end of the book, he tries to sum up how he feels about maps:
“Do you ever get the feeling like you already know the entire contents of the universe somewhere inside your head, as if you were born with a complete map of this world already grafted onto the folds of the cerebellum and you are just spending your entire life figuring out how to access this map?”
There’s a lot to figure out, starting with his family. His mother, Dr. Clair, is an entomologist, obsessed with chasing after the rare tiger monk beetle. (She likes bugs! Another win to sway me.) His father, T.E., seems bent on being the perfect example of the Western rancher. His older sister, Gracie, may be right to say that she is the only “normal” person in the house, which seems to mean of the national culture of America in the early twenty-first century. And the accidental death of his little brother, Layton hangs over the entire book.
Just when you’ve gotten to know these characters, T.S. sets off on the strange journey for convoluted reasons. I haven’t got this far into twelve-year-old-boy-alone-in-near-dementia since Lizard Music. His journey is filled with lots of wonderful insights and observations. While the prose captures the feelings of a twelve-year old, it’s often too polished to be a believable voice. Towards the end, he sinks well over his head into a whirlwind of conspiracy. Then just when you’re wondering how it could get wrapped up in the next five pages, it ends. It seems a fitting ending, but abrupt. I didn’t get the sense of profound revelation that I led to expect. Considering how much I enjoyed the first 90% of the book, I can forgive the last 10%.
You might want to give it a look.