S. by J.J. Abrams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When two readers exchange notes through margins in an ambiguous book, they’re plunged into a world of mystery, threat, benefit, and a new relationship. The book, Ship of Theseus, is extremely enigmatic, and so is the author, but our readers are willing to embark onto the Straka world where they would give up most of what they have.
Ship of Theseus is V.M. Straka’s final novel that chronicles a mystery man with an unknown past who is shanghaied in an unordinary xebec ship of horrible sailors only to find out that he is a passenger with an unexplained but important duty: to eradicate an enemy and his followers. What follows is a journey of sailing to different lands, traveling though different periods of time, and meeting new people, but never immediately discovering who he truly was, and the first woman whom he talked to before he was taken.
Ship of Theseus is a mystery, but it’s also a fantasy that fits into worlds of impossible. Published in 1949 by an unknown author, it claims to have drawn interests from readers to scholars (in the Straka world). The story is interesting enough per se; it revolves around a political conflict between “capitalists” and their oppressors, involving a series of events that are thrilling and captivating. I liked how it gains momentum chapter by chapter as a war progresses, leaving our main character, S., with no choice but to fight in it. However, that’s the only thing I held on to—the rest of the book is terribly abstruse. Like I said, Ship of Theseus is a fantasy as well since it breaks a lot of the world’s natural laws, especially involving the ship, S.’s abilities (to be revealed at the end of the book), and what he sees around him. Also, there isn’t much explanation as I expected concerning S.’s past, the ship’s nature, and Sola, which I found disappointing. Consequently, Ship of Theseus can be then open to a lot of interpretations regarding the book itself and the writer, but personally I didn’t like how there were so many plot holes that Straka (or Dorst for that matter) covered through the use of unrealism. It’s just that the supposed to be realistic setting that he set in his story was ironically unrealistic that nearly anything could explain those plot holes, weather it makes sense or not. As a result I’m not looking any further in making sense of the blur that Straka (or Dorst) had left me with. It’s has a great storyline indeed, but covering flaws through fantasy in a world much better realistic leaves an impression that the author was too idle to leave a good explanation.
Once I finished Ship of Theseus solely, it was then that I proceeded reading Jen and Eric’s notes and inserts. Essentially I read them in order according to the colors of the ink they used: (1) blue and black as their relationship starts from Jen liking the book, (2) orange and green as they get to be closer and dwell more upon the Straka world, (3) purple and red as Jen and Eric become more intimate and are facing consequences of becoming obsessed with the mystery behind Straka, and (4) both black as the final notes they pass to each other.
I liked Jen and Eric’s notes and inserts because they make the Straka world more interesting. Their perspectives and analyses are critical and thought-provoking, considering Jen as a college senior and Eric as a grad student, giving the notes an erudite asset. But what I liked most about their notes are the stories they share and the relationship that grows between them. Without the chemistry that’s with them, the margins would have been blunt and boring—Jen with her spontaneous, quirky, and approachable personality and Eric with his controlling, honest, and witty character, not to mention Eric being hesitant about meet-ups but obviously showing a lot of affection and Jen attacking him with ambiguous hints. Honestly, I kept on wondering if they would hit it or remain in the margins forever, and I was satisfied with their ending. What’s also in their lives other than their relationship and their obsession with Straka are their connections with people that either benefit or endanger them, producing a gripping effect on the storyline itself.
But as much as I loved Jen and Eric, I couldn’t even get intrigued with the thoughts they share regarding the Straka world. The Straka world is too broad, and it takes a reader a lot of commitment and devotion to fully understand it. Maybe if Jen and Eric’s notes were in order instead of placed randomly I would have fully comprehended what they were talking about, but I don’t even know or understand a handful of people, events, and places up to this point since Jen and Eric failed to introduce a proper background on them. I guess the impact on this one isn’t really influential as I thought it would be.
Like I said, it’s obvious that Jen and Eric devote an immeasurable amount of time in solving the identity of Straka and the mystery that’s connected to him, but honestly I don’t feel “involved” with any mystery here. To repeat, the story is unrealistic and full of plot holes and Jen and Eric’s notes are unorganized and vague. Up to now I only have the faintest idea of who Straka is and those he’s involved with. In other words, it’s like the book is set up only for Jen and Eric’s notes while Jen and Eric’s notes are set up for the Straka mystery, which didn’t go so well for me. Ship of Theseus, Jen and Eric, and V.M. Straka are supposed to feel real, but unfortunately for me, they felt entirely fictional.
ALL IN ALL, S. is a seriously scholarly book for those who want to commit time and effort in comprehending and solving a mystery of an author whose existence is unknown. Readers who enjoy critical thinking, deep analyses, and further research would enjoy this book, yet it didn’t work for me very well because of all the vagueness, though more information (presented in the book, not online) would have captivated me. Readers who want to dwell on the mystery and try understanding it all would want to visit this website, though I’m not that attached to go deeper.
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