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Wilfrid Laurier University Centre for Student Success
April 19, 2014
Canadian Excellence


Book Review: S. by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
book review by Joseph Brannan

If you enjoy reading novels at all, and are in need of a new volume to occupy your time, I have a fabulous and mysterious new book to suggest. S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, is probably unlike any novel you’ve encountered before. Conceived by Abrams, a director known for his roles in creating Lost and the recent Star Trek films, and written by Dorst, S. is a foray into the world of metafiction and mystery.

The novel itself comes in a fancy black box, but the physical book you pull out is an aged-looking volume entitled Ship of Theseus. Crack open the cover of what is meant to look like an old library book, and you are met with two separate, yet intertwining stories. First off, there is the story of Ship of Theseus, but in the margins of this book is a whole new world: the written notes of Jen and Eric, corresponding only through their writings in Ship of Theseus. Slowly, the stories emerge as Jen and Eric begin to form a friendship through the pages, and as the mystery of SoT deepens and captivates you in a whole different way.

The level of care and creativity put into crafting the physical text that you read as you explore S. is phenomenal. Abrams and Dorst have packed the book with postcards, notes, a map, cards, and all sorts of things that add to the already elaborate story of Jen and Eric’s correspondence. The pages of SoT are yellowed just enough at the edge to match those of a long-forsaken library volume, and a sticker on the spine features a library catalogue number to complete the novelty of the book.

As a metafictional novel, S. operates on more levels of fiction than any novel I’ve encountered before. Ship of Theseus, created by Dorst to hold the story of Jen and Eric, features a fictional author, V. M. Straka, supposedly a 20th century heavyweight the likes of Hemingway, and is complimented by a translator’s note to add to Straka’s legacy. Jen and Eric, as students at a fictional university, are well-read in Straka’s other (nonexistent) works, referenced as necessary, and part of Abram’s and Dorsts’ elaborate façade. This façade extends beyond the playful handwritten notes in the margins, and the physical appearance of the book. Tucked here and there among the pages are documents, cards, postcards, notes, letters, old photographs, and even a map drawn on a napkin, all placed in the book by Jen or Eric, as a key part of their conversation.

Though S. requires more reading time and concentration than the average novel, the mystery, witty construction of the book, and magical intertwining nature of the separate stories found within form a captivating and unique experience bound to charm all lovers of books, and many who find reading a ‘normal’ novel less interesting. S. is an adventure just to read, not only in its story!



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