This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
S. provided me with a reading experience unlike any other. As soon as I heard that J.J. Abrams was involved with a book, I knew I had to read it. The central concept of S. – two strangers get to know each other by exchanging their thoughts in the margins of a book – was conceived by Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. S. is more of a “package” than a book, and the package consists of a novel called Ship of Theseus by the (fake) author, V.M. Straka, the notes in the margins written by Jen and Eric, and more than 20 loose inserts (letters, postcards, photos, etc.) exchanged by Jen and Eric.
It was a lot to digest, and I initially began by trying to read the novel and all of Jen’s and Eric’s margin notes simultaneously. And there are a LOT of notes; they are on nearly every page. But it was too much for my brain to absorb. In some cases, Jen and Eric commented directly on the story as it was occurring on a particular page. In others, they were discussing their lives and making plans to meet. So, after about twenty pages, I decided to read Ship of Theseus while ignoring the notes. and when I was finished, I started back at the beginning and read all of the notes.
Ship of Theseus features a man known only as S. He has no memory of his past life, and as he attempts to uncover his identity, he ends up on a ship with some very sketchy sailors. As he travels, he pursues a woman he met in a bar at the opening of the story, and he hooks up with a group of people who are being hunted down by the agents of a sinister corporation. The story had some supernatural, ghostly feels, and while it was relatively enjoyable, it wasn’t the star of this “package” for me.
Instead, I was drawn in by the relationship between Jen and Eric. Ship of Theseus is purported to be written by an author named V.M. Straka, but there is controversy over his (or possibly her) real identity. Jen and Eric are both separately consumed with uncovering Straka’s identity, and their correspondence begins when Jen finds Eric’s notated copy of Ship of Theseus, and she writes comments in the book in reply to him. They leave the book in a location for the other to discover, and they continue their correspondence for a time without ever meeting. While they initially focus on the story itself and Straka, the tone of their notes gradually becomes more flirtatious, and Jen pushes for an in-person meeting. Eric is reluctant, and I kept thinking, “Come on, you crazy kids! You’re PERFECT for each other!”
Adding another layer of complexity is the fact that the notes are not in chronological order. We are able to follow the timing based on the color of ink used by Jen and Eric to write, so if you pick up on that early on, it’s not overly confusing. This technique made the notes more fun to read, because we are privy to the direction of Jen’s and Eric’s relationship even before they are. If you don’t get into the relationship between Jen and Eric, it’s likely that this will feel like a tedious read. But if you do, I think you’ll enjoy following the progression of the relationship.
If S. sounds like your type of story, I’d also recommend Night Film by Marisha Pessl, which featured a similar theme of people trying to uncover the identity of a mysterious director.