Book Reviews: The Sparrow and the Plum
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet By Reif Larsen
There has been recent discussion about what the media calls "The Great American Novel." A book that somehow defines the American experience, that pulls everything together and demonstrates what it means to be alive in this particular country at this time in history. My answer to those debaters would be To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee, or Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. The book that I am reviewing is definitely not one of these, but bears a remarkable resemblance to Warren's brilliant novel about Louisiana politics.
I say this not in respects to the plot line, which is basically a boy going from Montana to Washington DC to accept an award from the Smithsonian. An award, they suspect, which is being given to a college professor, not a 12 year old. T.S. Spivet tells of his cross country journey in his notebook and illustrates it throughout, drawing out every detail of his travels. This includes the aspects for which is it like Warren's book. In AtKM the main character sees the cows chewing grass by the side of the road, or sees the lighted windows from the car he is driving, and wonders about the lives of those people. He details the omniscience of the cow, the all knowing cow, as it watches the world go by, uncaring, just as the cow does not care. T.S. notices the pedestrians walking the streets of Chicago and tabulates who is walking with whom, and of those walking alone, how many have earphones listening to music. He makes decisions about life as skillfully as any sociologist would. That is the meat of the book, the treasures which should be gathered from its pages. A highlighter or pencil is highly recommended. The margin notations are golden observations about life.
I did find the ending to be a little slow, as the book, as in life, is more interesting during the journey than in the end destination. But the reaction he has to Washington DC is appropriate, as it ties everything together. I do wonder though, about his core principle, that everyone has a map of the universe in their minds, and the journey of life is trying to map it all into understanding. Do we know as much as the Cow standing beside the road? And is the cow more fortunate for, knowing everything, not caring anything about it? Or is the struggle what our journey is all about.
If you read the reviews from the online bookstores, they basically echo my feelings, a great book with a few flaws
Under Plum Lake by Lionel Davidson.
I had to take my Grandmother to the doctors (she'd broken a small bone in her arm when she fell in the front yard. Nothing major, just sore.), and so I picked up a kid's book I found several months before. Under Plum Lake, and I found I literally could not put the book down. While I waited to pay the bill at Waffle House, I read pages of the book.
When I finished it, I went immediately for the Internet to find out more about the author and his work. What marvels of sci-fi and fantasy might be actually hidden on bookshelves just waiting for me? The answer is, none. Lionel Davidson is most known for Israeli-Middle East Spy novels. His few children's books are written under a different name (David Line) and are reality based adventure books. There's a distinct pattern here. I can name quite a few Mystery/Thriller authors that write one amazing children's fantasy novel, which reach right into the core of Faerie, to the magical unknowns of the subconscious world, and then for some reason, never write another. My prior review of The Magicians by Grossman, talks more about that.
I wish I could describe the intensity to which I flew through this book. It tells the adventures of a boy, Barry, and his discovery of an underwater realm where people are giant, live hundreds of years, and experience every type of fun and pleasure available. His guide through the world is Dido, the son of the ruler of Egon. But that's all I'm gonna say about it, because you have to experience it for yourself.
I've read more than one review that likens the book to a wild LSD trip. I won't disagree with them. The book is a sensory overload with sparse language and very bare emotions. So very well written, and it is an utter shame that Davidson only wrote one book that fits into the science fiction genre. And doubly so that the book is out of print. There are accounts of people (prior to the Internet) searching for a copy for years, making it one of their most prized possessions. I can understand why. Now you can order a copy (at Borders.com) easily, and have a copy of your own. I wanted to share the book with people. Order copies and say, "Here, you must read this book!!" And so I will tell you, "You must read this book!!"