A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.
The book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V.M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey.
The writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumors that swirl around him.
The readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.
Conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, S. is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don’t understand. It is also a love letter to the written word.
S. is not what you think it is.
From the moment you slit open the slipcase — the same slipcase that bears the only explicit admission of J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst's involvement — and slit it you will, in an act of introductory destruction that implicates us in the worst impulses of the characters we'll meet in a moment — from the second, then, that we see what waits within, there is the suspicion that S. is not so much a novel as it is an object. A lavish literary artefact.
But also an artefact of art. Of passion. Of intellect. Of ambition. Of all these things and so much more, in the form of a metafiction so meticulous and considered and meaningful, finally, that House of Leaves may very well have been bettered — and I don't make that statement lightly.
What awaits, in any case, is an unassuming clothbound book called Ship of Theseus. The author: a V. M. Straka, apparently. On the spine is stuck a library sticker, complete with an authentic Dewey Decimal reference. BOOK FOR LOAN is emblazoned on the endpapers, and on the backboard, below a record of the dates it's been borrowed on — Ship of Theseus has been untouched, we see, for thirteen years — an apocalyptic warning from the library to KEEP THIS BOOK CLEAN; that "borrowers finding this book pencil-marked, written upon, mutilated or unwarrantably defaced, are expected to report it to the librarian."
The title page makes a mockery of all this. Lightly pencilled in is an instruction to return the book to such-and-such a workroom in the library of Pollard State University. Then, in pen, a note from Jen, who responds as follows: "Hey — I found your stuff while I was shelving. (Looks like you left in a hurry!) I read a few chapters + loved it. Felt bad about keeping the book from you, since you obviously need it for your work. Have to get my own copy!"
Suffice it to say she doesn't. Instead, Jen and the other scribbler, who eventually introduces himself as Eric — though that's not his real name either — compare their notes about the novel, making an immediate mess of the margins. See, irrespective of the resulting small caps scrawl, Ship of Theseus is something of a puzzle...