Vail Valley books: Boy on the run |

Vail Valley books: Boy on the run

Stephen Bedford
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyVail Valley books: "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" by Reif Larsen is available at the Bookworm of Edwards

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado “-Every so often, but not nearly often enough, a novel comes along that challenges the constructs and perceptions of just what a novel can be.

Reif Larsen’s stunning and sensitive debut, “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet,” is one of those rare gems that is entirely original in its voice, scope, and format. It may not be the best book you read all year, but it will certainly be the most original.

Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet, 12, is precocious well beyond his 12 years, and although he’s not yet a teenager he’s already an old soul. T.S. leads a relatively monotonous life on his family’s Montana farm, an expansive swath of prairie and scrub brush that he’s mapped in its entirety.

T.S. is a cartographer, and a damn good one at that. His compulsively detailed maps lead to an offer from the Smithsonian, whose officers are unaware of T.S.’s age. Capitalizing on a sense of manifest destiny, T.S. heads east, but it’s not his trip to Washington D.C. that’s the journey.

As T.S. rides the rails we’re transported into the mind of a boy trying to make sense of his family and the world surrounding him. He’s smart but hardly cultured. He loves his family, but doesn’t understand them. His brother is dead, and he’s not sure if it’s his fault. His mother is talented, but those talents have slowly rotted. His father is a man of few words, fewer emotions, and seems to harbor a grudge toward his bookish son.

These are weighty issues upon the shoulders of little T.S., who hopes to gain perspective from afar, and maybe reach a common ground thousands of miles away from Montana.

Larsen has created a wholly original narrator, one with depth, emotion, and intuition. T.S. springs off the page thanks to Larsen’s deft, rhythmical writing. He’s in a similar class as Marisha Pessl (“Special Topics in Calamity Physics”) and Joshua Ferris (“Then We Came to the End”), whose snappy writing is every bit as important as their actual story, maybe more so.

We’re also treated to T.S.’s various maps and diagrams of virtually every aspect of his past and present journeys. The illustrations are quirky and detailed while adding another dimension to our plucky narrator. The story, coupled with the illustrations, makes for a reading experience that’s crying out for Wes Anderson to buy the film rights.

This is not to say the novel is without fault. A subplot of T.S.’s ancestry runs a little too long and his rhapsodizing about McDonald’s is perhaps the novel’s lone cliche.

Then again, this is not a perfect novel. It’s just a well-told story about a boy trying to make sense of himself and his surroundings and more importantly, it’s original, and that’s a precious literary commodity.

Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm.

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