“S.” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst; Mulholland Books, 470 pages ($35). What we have here in a decidedly experimental age in publishing is a crazily inventive kind of post-modern book. This is not a book “written” conventionally by Hollywood creative kingpin J.J. Abrams in the traditional way – you know, sitting at a desk with writing implements (whatever they be) and proceeding from some sort of start to some sort of finish. This is, in fact, a book Abrams instigated and then “produced” in a way that the smash hit mini-mogul might have done for his wildly inventive and wickedly underrated pseudo-monster mock documentary “Cloverfield.”
The result is the kind of wild publishing artifact that, in the current world, couldn’t begin to exist without someone’s massive clout reaching grandly salutary proportions. It doesn’t have the relatively simple, two-tracked intellectual heft of Jonathan Franzen’s recent Karl Kraus project. What it is, instead, is a large assemblage of moving parts put together by Abrams and his designated “writer/director” Doug Dorst, who is described as a writing teacher at Texas State University, novelist, playwright and two-time “Jeopardy” champion. What you get inside a sealed slipcase is a hugely convincing literary artifact – an apparent high school library copy (catalog No. 813.54STR1949) of a novel called “Ship of Theseus” published by “Winged Shoes Press” in 1949 and written by one V.M. Straka, a prolific “author of provocative fictions, novels that toppled governments, shamed ruthless industrialists and foresaw the horrifying sweep of totalitarianism that has been a particular plague in the last few decades.”
On the pages of the book, though, are messages to each other from two readers – a college grad student and a senior who communicate over the book, investigate it, and communicate voluminously with each other, after leaving germane paper artifacts pressed between the book’s pages (from, say, the “Straka archive of Uppsala University” or from Brazilian postcards). What Abrams and Dorst, then, have created is an extremely complex, complicated and ingenious fictional apparatus that not only makes “Lost” look like kid stuff but both miniaturizes and expands what Nabokov did in “Pale Fire” and Byatt did in “Possession.” Exhilarating excess.
– Jeff Simon