I am sure you are aware Abrams is a famous movie director and I believe this is his first attempt at a novel. He is directed many famous movies such as Armageddon, Star Trek, and the new Star Wars coming out next year (pretty excited about that by the way). Dorst, who I was unfamiliar with until reading this book, is a writer who is most famous for this book as well as The Surf Guru and Alive in Necropolis (I have not read either). He graduated from the university of Iowa, Stanford, and UC Berkeley. He is also a three time Jeopardy champion, have I ever mentioned I love that show. All in all pretty impressive, but I have always wondered when it comes to coauthoring books who does the majority of the writing and who came up with the idea and what not?
I am sure you are wondering what is going on with this review as well as the last one. Well as I mentioned in the previous review this is the strangest most-odd book I have ever read. In fact it is basically two books in one. The actual novel is Ship of Theseus written by a fake author known as V.M. Straka. In the margins of the novel there is a conversation between two people, Sara a graduate student and Eric a former student at Pollard State University where Sara currently attends. Eric has spent his career trying to figure out the mystery of who Straka is as there are no pictures or anything of him/her other than the novels that were written by the author. As I have mentioned the two carry on a conversation in the margins of the book as well as putting other things in the book such as pictures, postcards, and other notes written on notebook paper inserted into the actual book. They pass the book back and forth, leaving it in a secret hiding place. The hand written notes are color coded so you can tell which one to read first. It can get a bit confusing as the notes are not always in chronological order. Eric and Jen work together to try and solve the mystery of who Straka is. They are in a race to beat his old professor who has stolen some research from Eric and is on the verge of publishing a book using that same info.
Have I mentioned this book is odd yet? You can see in the pictures I have posted that it is a very unusual novel with all the writing in the margins, not to mention all the extra printed material in the pages. All of these things together make the book difficult to read, and that is without even mentioning the actual plot. That is one, of the many, things that bothered me about this book. You could barely read it without something falling out of the book, not only that but all the extra stuff in the pages made it difficult to keep pages turned, not to mention I felt some of the extra material did not make much sense, but I will get into that later.
The plot in this is pretty straight forward. Eric and Jen are trying to figure out who Straka is while racing against Eric’s old professor who is trying to publish a book on who he thinks Straka is. I felt this story as well as SOT was just a jumbled mess or mostly incoherent thoughts that as times resembled a vague plot. I felt SOT was near impossible to follow and left the reader with no more answers than when they started. There was a lot going on in the book but I felt there was no real direction and no real end. The story seemed to lazily float from one idea to the next with no real connectedness.
As for S.I felt it was more of the same. Both stories have a resemblance of a plot, S. more so, but still both ended with no real answers and I was left wondering at the end if I had wasted quite a few hours suffering through this story for nothing. The notes Eric and Jen write back and forth are at times difficult to understand and do not always flow in an nice orderly fashion. The extra material at times seemed like a waste to me. There were a few things that I thought was pretty cool and added something new to the story but a lot of it was just needless stuff that offered next to nothing to the overall story, not to mention taking the extra time to read all of it. Some of the material was very off topic as well, so you were easily sidetracked reading it that you would forget what was going on in the story when you picked it back up.
Did I mention this was hard to read? Both books are very hard to follow and I have not even talked about all the different names mentioned. There are no less than 1,000 different names (this could very well be a gross exaggeration) that Eric and Jen discuss as the possible Straka. I felt it was near impossible to keep all the names straight and know who they were talking about when one was brought up. I felt I needed a chart to keep track of them all. I also felt it was very hard to pay attention through both books so I am sure there is a bunch of little things that I missed. I found myself struggling to stay awake while reading and my mind often wondering as I skimmed over the words. To me the writers tried to build a suspenseful mystery where there was none.
With all that being said, I will have to give credit where credit is due. This is without a doubt the most unique and creative piece of literature I have ever read, period! From all the extra material newspaper clippings, postcards, making the physical book look like a used library book compete with stamps of check out dates in the back. All of these things make the experience more real while reading. I don’t know how you come up with this idea much less pull it off as they have, it is truly a work of modern art. Think about this, so the writers (Abrams and Dorst) made up a fake writer (Straka), wrote a novel for the fake author and then wrote basically another book about two kids analyzing the fake novel, all the while building this fake history with these made up characters. That is pretty damn impressive not to mention time consuming and the amount of detail that was used in every aspect of this novel is amazing. I am still in awe over the time and effort the authors must have spent writing this book. I am in shock over their creativity and their talent to put this thing together. I have to give both of them major props, and regardless if you loved or hated this book you have to respect the idea and uniqueness of the book. It is truly a literary wonder.
As you can tell I really wondered how these two came up with the idea. I did some brief research and Abrams said he got the idea mostly from picking up a book in the park one day and in the book it said “pass this book on when you finish reading it.” That is how he got the idea of Jen and Eric in S. passing the book back and forth. As for all the Straka stuff Dorst said he mainly got those ideas from a mysterious writer called B. Travern, who was basically used in place of Straka. Travern’s name and pretty much everything else associated with his life are of much dispute as well as all of his personal details were kept to the upmost secrecy. He also wrote a book called Death Ship which has a very similar plot to SOT. So when you look at these things it is interesting to see how the idea came about. What I cannot figure out is how Dorst got away with using a very similar idea to what Travern wrote about in Death Ship. I am not saying he plagiarized by any means but there are a lot of similar ideas and themes at use here. I guess that is what all great writers and musicians do, take what is old and put a new and different spin on it. I will say the B. Travern story is very interesting, and if you want to learn more do a quick Google search for it. There are some good articles that will eat some time if you are board at work.
For all the negative things I have said about this novel I am on the fence of recommending it. Yes is it a very difficult read that lacks any sort of real payoff in the end, but I think there is something to be said about reading it and admiring the work of something that is very odd and unique. So with that being said I will say that you should check it out mostly to admire the full body of work and not necessarily the story. It is a very neat and totally new idea, at least to me, that I have never seen before and I do not think will be replicated any time soon. The interesting thing is that there are numerous sites out there that delve into this story much deeper than I have here and I suggest you check them out if you are interested. I have pasted the links below. There is also an actual blog of Jen from the story. Apparently she is still searching and finding new info about who Straka is. So that is yet again something else that is pretty cool about this novel. There is just so much extra with this one that it is hard to say skip it, but I will also say that it is not for everyone. If you look at the reviews you either love it or hate it, there is no middle ground. I think somehow I am in the middle, but I am heavily leaning toward did not liking it. But as always do not let my opinion influence your reading decision. Just know what you are getting into beforehand.
http://jenheyward.tumblr.com/ – Jen’s blog