Friday, July 17, 2009

To read...

A current obsession of mine in the literary world is The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, a novel by Reif Larsen. Written through the honest voice of a 12-year-old, Larsen's book evokes a childhood nostalgia for adventure and the desire to understand. Tecumseh Sparrow (T.S.) Spivet is just one of a long line of Tecumseh Spivets, though his curiousities lie in a far different realm from his predecessors. At the Coppertop Ranch, just 4.73 miles north of Divide, Montana, T.S. lives with his mother, "Dr. Clair", father, and older sister Gracie. From the novel's outset, it is clear that T.S. is far different from his father, a traditional rancher who when he speaks uses only one of several cowboy-esque phrases. Dr. Clair, an entomologist of sorts, has spent her entire time at the Coppertop and its surroundings searching for the Tiger Monk Beetle, or so T.S. believes. Like his mother, T.S. fancies himself a scientist, more specificially, a cartographer. Mapping everything from land, McDonald's locations, facial expressions, migratory patterns, and the timing at which his father sips whiskey, T.S. observes and records everything around him. Part of T.S.'s desire to map the world stems from the death of his younger brother Layton. Unlike T.S., Layton was a hero to his father, a born rancher who had a knack for the manlier aspects of life - guns, country western films, and helping out around the property. Layton's accidental death, for which T.S. feels immense guilt, separated his family members in an inexplicable way. A boy well beyond his years academically, it is clear T.S. wants more out of his relationship with both of his parents despite his already deep knowledge of their inner workings. One evening while T.S. and Gracie are out on the porch shucking corn, the Smithsonian calls with regards to an award T.S. has won. Apparently, T.S.'s mentor, Dr. Terry Yorn, secretly submitted a portfolio of T.S.'s drawings and maps for the prestigious Baird award. Confused as to how this could have come about, T.S. turns down the award, informing the caller that he couldn't get to Washington DC to accept it. After a day or so, T.S. realizes that he should go and accept his award, despite the fact that the Smithsonian thinks he is in his twenties (or older), and a PhD-carrying colleague of Dr. Yorn. So, after carefully packing (and repacking) his suitcase, T.S. stows away on a freight train out of Butte, prepared to journey across the country, mapping and drawing the whole way. The adventures he has along the way, through "wormholes" of the "middle west," the depot of Chicago, and finally making it to the Smithsonian, are comparable to a modern day Huck Finn. The adult concept of cartography mixed with the very child like persona of T.S. leads to a truly remarkable adventure through the human spirit. The desire to know, understand, and connect is intricately woven throughout this entire novel, leaving one with a sense of hope and reminding them of the importance of celebrating little victories. I highly recommend Mr. Larsen's book, hoping only that he write more stories that celebrate the family and the revelations that come with understanding the past.

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