S.

by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
First sentence: “If found, please return to the workroom B19, Main Library, Pollard State University.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Language, including lots of f-bombs. And some violence. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

The thing that piqued my interest about this book was the buzz about the form. We had a sample copy and I perused through it. The format — a book published in 1948, stolen from a high school library, with notes scribbled in the margins — was intriguing. Enough so, that I bought myself a copy for Christmas, and eagerly dove in. It IS an intriguing concept, reading someone else’s notes, figuring out the story as you go.

It’s an incredibly layered book: the “book” is one Ship of Theseus, written by the mysterious V. M. Straka. A book where the main character, S., has amnesia, and goes on a journey to figure out who he really is. In doing so, he finds out that he was involved with some shady figures. The second layer is the work that a disenfranchised grad student, Eric, is doing to figure out the real identity of V. M. Straka. All that’s really known about him is that he was involved in this mysterious organization, the S. Eric gets help on this quest from a struggling undergrad, Jen, who finds Ship of Theseus laying in the stacks and begins a conversation. Which brings me to layer three: Jen and Eric’s story. They work together, and over the course of the book, develop their own relationship.

I realized fairly early on that the layers were too dense for me. I couldn’t hold everything in my mind, for starters. I ended up giving up the main Ship of Theseus story, partially because it was boring, but also because I just couldn’t keep multiple storylines in my head. Call it being out of practice, or lack of interest, but I just couldn’t do it. But there was also the fact that the story’s told  inside out and backward. I did think that maybe if I had read it in shifts — read Ship of Theseus first, then the inked-comments, then maybe it would have made sense.

So, in the end, this was all form and no substance. In the end, all the thrills, chills, and mystery They were promising weren’t there. It was a simple story, one that tries to give grad school a mystique and make it cool (it doesn’t succeed). It did succeed in being a homage to paper books — there’s no way this would make a decent e-book. But it wasn’t much else.

And in the end, I found that disappointing.

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