813: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

by Gerard


813.6: Larsen, Reif. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet. New York: Penguin, 2010. 374 pp. ISBN 978-0-14-311735-3.

Dewey Construction:

  • 800: Literature
  • 810: American Literature in English
  • 813: American fiction
  • +.6: Authors active after 1999

On a ranch in Montana, Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is busy drawing maps. He spends countless hours observing the world around him, carefully detailing its motions and inner workings. From the flight paths of bats to the individual sound prints of different firearms, his maps allow other people to see the world in a different light. And it is precisely these maps that earn him the prestigious Baird Fellowshop from the Smithsonian. All this would be remarkable on its own, but it’s even more so given one more detail: T.S. Spivet is only 12 years old.

Reif Larsen’s Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is a all at once a bildungsroman, an adventure tale, and a poignant look at history and loss. The Spivets are a quiet family—father Tecumseh Elijah is your stereotypical Western rancher, mother Dr. Clair is an absent-minded scientist always hunting for an elusive insect, and sister Gracie bemoans her existence in Montana away from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. The Spivets’ third child, Layton, died in a gun accident on the ranch and all the members feel his loss in their own way.

Then one day, while mapping his sister de-husking corn on the ranch, T.S. gets a call from the Smithsonian notifying him that he has won the Baird Fellowship. Expecting very little help from his family, he runs away, hops a train, and begins a trek of both inward and outward exploration. On the way, he learns more about both his living and deceased ancestors, encounters real danger, and comes to terms with his brother’s death. Also, all around the margins of the text are selection from T.S.’s various notebooks, showing his maps and interests. The use of these “maps” throughout the book is a very clever method of illustrating a work but also making the illustrations convey more about each character.

Luckily, I was very satisfied with my choice for American fiction. With almost infinite works out there for this section, I was worried that I’d pick a clunker. Larsen’s writing is quick and diverse. Each character almost becomes a caricature, but he toes the line rather well. Perhaps my favorite part was how young T.S. spoke. You can tell he’s precocious but not obnoxious. His language can only represent what he has experienced, and the author is careful not to put too lofty a phrase in his speeches. All in all, a pleasant and unexpected read.