James's Reviews > The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
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's review
Oct 25, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: hoped-it-would-be-better

I first found Mr. T.S. Spivet, geographer-savant, while browsing an airport bookstore. Secretly, I was hoping to find something I could download to my Sony eReader, but found myself hopelessly bound to the hardback copy of Larsen's debut novel due to its ingenious inclusion of hundreds of sketches taken from the protagonist's notebooks and journals. Upon reading, I became enraptured at once by the language, the setting, and the powerful characters. By page 103, I knew I had found a new favorite book of 2009 and was already making notes for my 5-star rating on Goodreads.

If only I had stopped there. To be true to the method of the book, I have included my own sketch of what happened to me while reading it.

The Sorry State of my Feelings Regarding The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

The Y-axis shows the stars I intended to give the book, the X-axis plots the number of pages I read. You can clearly see that by the end, I was close to giving the book one star, but have chosen to go with two just because I still recall fondly the affection I held for it up through the first hundred pages.

Where to start? Firstly, bravo to Mr. Larsen for crafting such a spectacular setting in the wide-open Montana sky and filling it with a backstory that just begged for revelation. I am still in awe of many passages and literary devices included, not the least of which is the allegorical use of the Continental Divide. Impressive.

However, while I admire Mr. Larsen's MFA from Columbia, it evidently only provided 103 pages of literary training because the book fails to deliver on all that richness. As my sketch indicates, there was a golden moment at around page 300 when it appeared that the author intended to reveal a meta-story -- an explanation for why so much magic and serendipity could transpire in the life of a single individual. I began to salivate over the possibilities, certain the the author would redeem himself.

He did not. Or if he did, I totally missed it. Either way, I am saddened. Here's what I wanted to have happen (sans spoilers of any kind):

I imagined we'd find that the tragic family incident that haunts the book so effectively in the first act would turn out to be much more complex than we had imagined. That perhaps, the protagonist had also been involved in some way as to not escape injury and that the elaborate implausibilty of the book would represent his journey through his own self-understanding as he either joined his loved one in death or made the choice not to. If you've read the book, you just might understand what I am saying. If not, solicit Mr. Larsen for permission for me to write the ending I hoped for. I would start on, say, page 319.

P.S. - I will be reading whatever Mr. Larsen writes next because this book had so much potential, I'm sure he'll find his way to paying it off next time 'round. Sure as shootin', pardner.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 1, 2009 – Finished Reading
October 25, 2009 – Shelved
October 25, 2009 – Shelved as: hoped-it-would-be-better

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Hilary (new)

Hilary James, before too many people read this review, spell check "salivate". I'm not trying to nit pick, just looking out for you. I bought your ebook, by the way. Will read it after I finish "The Woman in White" and "Rebecca".

James wow, the salivary glands were working so hard that I got distracted. Thx.

message 3: by Ebookwormy1 (new)

Ebookwormy1 oh Hilary, I just had to say that WOMAN IN WHITE is one of my FAVORITE books and rebecca was wonderful too! Great choices!

message 4: by Ebookwormy1 (new)

Ebookwormy1 PS. james, thanks for another engaging and creative review!

message 5: by Bmd (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bmd Great review, reflects my feelings about the book exactly. I could never have described it as well as you did! Also, I like what your proposed ending way better!

message 6: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Wow, great review! I love the graph.

message 7: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (I have Woman in White too! Rebecca is GREAT, I think it's really underrated.)

Tonya I too agree with you regarding the downward spiral that occurred after page 100. I had so much hope for this book I felt really let down as each page turned without any redemption to what I thought could have been an exemplary boyhood adventure book.
Wonderful review.

Jane Snyder I totally agree with everything you said. I loved the first section about T.S. and his family. Then, Larsen took a whole new track, ha ha, and wrote a completely different, and ridiculous tale about implausible things and occurrences. And, after finishing the book, I still don't care at all about Emma; the people's actions and reactions toward T.S.

message 10: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Snyder ...were unrealistic in my mind, and I actually was convinced that the end of the story would have T.S. waking up from a dream. Which maybe was the case. After such a great beginning, I am really disappointed and annoyed.

Jerry James, thanks for the excellent review. I agree with your assessment overall, but was more generous with 4 stars because when Larsen's writing shines, it fills the whole Montana Big Sky.

Loraine This is the review I wish I had written. It expresses perfectly what I experienced with this book. Only one element is missing but I found it expressed in one of the comments. I too expected the ending to be TS waking from a dream. Great review.

Lirios Great review! I absolutely agree. I think I'd have made exactly the same graphic.

message 14: by Lauren (new) - added it

Lauren Came here to say much the same - the first third of this book was spectacular. The second third loses steam, and the last third sent the story completely off the rails. It feels like three different books - maybe it should have been three different books. I'd give a hella lot to have the whole book live up to those first one hundred pages of beautiful.

P.S. 100% agree with and love your graph :)

Rachel Have you read his second novel, I Am Radar? I just finished TS and felt much the same way!

Stacy Stosich Bwahaha! Yes! Your graphic is fantastic!

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