The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


A new kind of literary experience: Abrams and Dorst impress audiences with S.


I have seen some intriguing concepts for books in my day, but never one so outstandingly original as that of S., the novel by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to refer to this work as simply a novel, because it is indeed so much more than that.  This work of meta-fiction has surpassed the label of novel, instead creating a fully interactive experience sure to thrill the full spectrum of readers.

Upon purchasing this book within a book, and removing the black slip-case emblazoned with a large scripted S, the reader encounters what appears to be an old, weathered library book entitled “Ship of Theseus” — complete with call numbers on the spine and return dates stamped inside the back cover.  Written by the fictitious author and political dissident, V.M Straka — a man whose identity is highly debated among literary scholars — the book was “published” in 1949 under highly mysterious circumstances.

“Ship of Theseus” recounts the tale of a young man suffering from amnesia, who knows nothing about himself save his name, S.  It is a classic adventure story with a few unexpected twists, chronicling S’s tale as he attempts to piece together his former life.

This tale, however, is merely the backbone of the novel.  What makes it truly original is the annotations that fill the margins of the book.

As the reader soon learns, the book is being exchanged between its owner, an expunged graduate student named Eric, and an undergraduate named Jen.  Their margin notes lay out their thoughts on the book as they work to uncover the identity of V.M Straka, as well as the messages hidden within the footnotes by Straka’s translator, F.X. Caldeira.

As the book goes on, however, it becomes clear that they are working against a force much bigger than literary intrigue, as their mutual interest in the book leads them towards a danger that is all too real.

In addition to the annotations left by Eric and Jen, the book is also filled with various photocopied documents, postcards, and sheets of notebook paper that the two have passed back and forth throughout their relationship, making it feel more like a one-of-a-kind gem found in the corner of a dusty antique shop, than a book that was bought brand new.

Unfortunately, this unique format does make the book at little complicated at times, requiring a great deal of focus from the reader (particularly when one realizes that the notes between Eric and Jen are from several different timelines, and are differentiated by color).

This could obviously be a drawback for some readers, but in my opinion the end result is entirely worth the effort.  Personally, I fully intend to reread it in the hopes of picking up on the intricacies that I may have missed the first time through.

S. is an incredibly ambitious endeavor with a great deal of potential, which I think it lives up to in every way.  Abrams cinematographic background lends itself beautifully to the conception of this novel, while Dorst’s writing manages to capture all of the voices that play into the telling of the story, and express them all with a deft ability.

Additionally, they accomplish all of this without making it feel at all gimmicky, which is a trap that is all too easy to fall into when writing a novel in such an unusual format.

This modern twist on the old-fashioned adventure story is one that will surely renew anyone’s love of literature. With realistic prose, and an extensive historical context, one almost forgets that it is indeed a work of fiction.

Abrams wasn’t kidding when he said that this book was created to be a “love letter to the written word”.  It succeeds in not only providing an incredibly story, but also in proving that in a world where technology is the overwhelming standard, the written word still has a role to play.

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