Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is 12, the only surviving son of Dr. Clair and Father, brother to Gracie, and a prodigy who maps not just his geographic world (his bedroom, the route to various local towns, the flight pattern of one bat in the acres south of his house), but everything else as well. Here’s a short list from the first few chapters: “Patterns of Cross-Talk Before and After”, “Selected Stages of Male Pattern Baldness”, “The Distance Between Here and There”, “Gracie Shucking Sweet Corn #6”, “Map of August 22-23”.
T. S. compulsively charted every aspect of his world even before the accident that killed his brother, Layton (the line marking the Before and After of some of his maps), and he’d sold illustrations to professional science publications. Each member of his family is coping (or not) with the loss, and T. S. chooses to deal with it by working Layton’s name into all drawings completed after that dreadful day.
Then, catapulting T.S. into a cross-country hobo’s journey, the Smithsonian telephones — believing him to be an adult, they’ve awarded him a prestigious prize that requires his presence in Washington, D.C. Much of the book covers his journey, after hopping a freight train, from Montana to the nation’s capitol. The journey begins funny, blessed with ease, and marred only by minor hunger pangs, but changes at Chicago. T. S. has left the friendly West (think laconic cowboys and loyal dogs) and entered the East’s harsh world (greedy museum managers and crazed prophets). I felt the novel’s tone shift seismically, as though crossing the Mississippi had brought T. S. out of The Good Old Days and into the world of Shucksters and Crazies.
Having grown up with H. C. Holling’s thickly annotated works, I wasn’t bothered, as some other reviewers have been, by the detours to the marginalia (sketched first by Larsen and then made gorgeous by Ben Gibson). T. S.’s voice is quirky, funny, questioning, observant — everything you’d expect from an obsessive and intelligent protagonist. But it soon becomes clear that each member of T. S.’s family is using something to distance himself from the others and their shared tragedy. For T. S., it’s his compulsion to draw everything, as though that were a way way to pin down and understand events and people.
Larsen has created an interactive website, where you can explore characters and locations, and see images from the novel. A recent film version by Amélie‘s Jean-Pierre Jeunet has opened in Europe but not yet in the U. S. And for those longing for more on this blog about Norway, Larsen’s recent Hurtigruten trip was recently featured in The New York Times Travel section.
FYI: The ship backs into Trondheim at about 10:50 minutes/seconds into the video. At 11:05 you can see the island of Monkholmen. I knew I could drag Trondheim into this somehow!