by Rief Larsen
Penguin Press, 2009
An unusual and intriguing book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is the story of twelve-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet and his clandestine journey from a ranch in Montana to Washington D.C. It is a cartographic fantasy, a book within a book, and a self-contained piece of art.
T.S. Spivet is “a genius mapmaker” . He draws maps, charts and graphs, all the time, of everything. Patterns of Cross-Talk Before and After, The Four Components of Adventure, Gracie & Me Play Cat’s Cradle During the Blizzard. It is a compulsion, he has to do it.
Was it all just improvisation on the part of my internal balancing system, or, as I intuitively believed, was there actually some invisible map of the land buried inside my head? Were we all born with the awareness of everything? The slope of every hillock? Every river’s curvature and cutbank, the rise and fall of the chiseled rapids and the glassy stillness of each eddy? Did we already know the radial shading of every single person’ iris, the arborage of crow’s-feet on every elder’s temple, the ridged whorl of thumbprints, of fence lines, of lawns, and flowerpots, the reticulation of gaveled driveways, the gridwork of streets, the bloom of the exit ramps and superhighways, of the stars and planets and supernovas and galaxies beyond –did we know the precise location of all this but ultimately have no conscious way to access this knowledge? Page 201
Delicate and intricate maps, as well as lists, notes and digressions fill the margins of this lovely book. It is easy to get lost in them. They also contain family secrets. His maps have been printed in scientific publications and sold to museums. Of course none of these fine publications and institutions realize they are dealing with a child.
Through some secret finagling by his adult mentor T.S. wins the prestigious Baird Award given by the Smithsonian Institution. T.S. must figure out a way to get to Washington on his own. So he leaves home, hops a train, and ends up spending part of his journey reading a history of his paternal grandmother written by his mother. This history gives him a better understanding of the family he has left behind. Along the way he meets some interesting characters and has several wild adventures. When he reaches The Smithsonian he learns things may not always be what they appear. Even though T.S. has always believed otherwise the world is, in fact, a mystery.
Through loss, self-reflection and self-discovery T.S. learns what is closest to his heart. I enjoyed The Selected Work, but I found the voice of this twelve-year-old unbelievable and the open-ended multi-layered storyline left me unsatisfied. The beautiful notes and illustrations more than make up for these flaws.
Doing a bit of digging about the author, Rief Larsen, I found that he reportedly managed to win an initial advance of $1 million dollars. I wonder if the publishers were searching to fill the void left by the last Harry Potter novel?
This was my second book for the Random Reading Challenge.