S. the 2013 novel, conceived by J.J. Abrams himself, and written by Doug Dorst, is not just a mere story, it’s a literary experiment, showcased as a physical object. As Abrams said, he once found a book on a bench, with a note giving specific instructions to read and leave the book where someone else may find it, forming an ongoing chain of readership, composed of curious readers who actively leave the book somewhere public, for another curious individual to pick it up. This sparked the idea behind the novel, S. Which is itself a novel within a novel.
Let’s dissect it all, shall we?
What Does A Story Within A Story Look Like?
S. is designed to look like another book, by the title of Ship of Theseus, a fictional novel, written by a fictional and mysterious author, V.M. Straka. If it sounds confusing, not to worry. Simply stated, when purchasing the novel, you are purchasing two separate stories, tied together solely by the fictional author. You can read Ship of Theseus all the way through, but scribbled within the margins, tucked away between pages, is another story: one of two college students trying to decode the mysteries of V.M. Straka’s identity, life, and the secret behind Ship of Theseus.
What Are The Two Stories Being Told?
Ship of Theseus, is Straka’s 19th and final book, before his mysterious death, which is speculated to have been an assassination, caused by espionage. The story details an amnesiac’s peculiar journey of self-discovery. If you’re wondering how someone with partial, or even total memory loss can discover him/herself, read the novel. It’s pretty thrilling, and meant to captivate the readers, as it does with the two college students in the margins.
That brings us to the other story in S. Jen, a college senior contemplating her next life move, and Eric, a disgraced graduate student, trade the novel back and forth, without ever meeting. They have it in places where the other will find it, and then read the novel while jotting notes in the margins, photocopying articles that shed potential light on Straka’s true identity, writing handwritten letters, and even adding in postcards. All these loose materials are physically tucked away between the pages, providing an experience for the readers who purchase the book.
Their motive is to uncover Straka’s identity, and the novel’s secret, before Eric’s graduate professor can publish research on Straka, research which he stole from Eric, before having him expelled to cover his tracks. Clearly, if the professor gets credit, Eric’s entire life up until this point in time is futile, since he has spent it studying Straka, becoming an expert, of sorts.
Why is S. Innovative?
J.J. Abrams is known for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek, Alias, and much, much more. His realm is very much a visual one, not a literary one, so the book is innovative in its approach to combine the two, which it does amazingly well. Doug Dorst, best known for writing S. and Alive In Necropolis, helped Abrams conceive the novel, inspired by the innovative concept.
Books these days can be downloaded off iBooks just fine. They’re meant to be read cover to cover, and come available as these neat and pristine books for people to read and admire. S. is a clear rejection of everything we think of when we hear the word “book,” so much so that it is regarded as literary art by some.
It looks like the fictional Ship of Theseus, borrowed and never returned to the library. It is worn, stained, and messy, with bits of paper tucked between its pages. And yet, it’s a fictional book, with the real story scribbled in a non-linear fashion, all throughout the book’s pages, cover, and loose postcards.
In an industry as challenging as writing and publishing, Abrams and Dorst set out to create something new and different. It was challenging, an experiment that has never been done before, but it was mesmerizing in its originality. Even now, three years later, S. is an extraordinary novel. It’s different, artistic, and challenging. But more than that, it does authors a great service by encouraging readers to buy physical copies of books.