Junior Science Club

From the endearing beginning to this ultimately disappointing book:

The classroom was empty, the windows thrown open as it was the first real warm day of spring, and outside children were laughing among the whinnying of the swings and the soft plush bounce of a red playground ball against the asphalt. Part of me wanted to join my peers, to forget about entropy and inevitability and bask in the joys of four square.

“But what about the Pit?” I asked.

“I don’t give a shittling about the Pit,” he said.

This moment of confrontation between us was frozen in my memory in a peculiar echo of the freeze-frame that I had described in my lab report. I wanted to ask what a shittling was, but frankly, I was too scared. The way he said this phrase with such an unabashed dismissiveness made me take a step back and blink and then blink again. How could a man supposedly dedicated to the sciences – the life force that bound my mother to unsquirreling the natural world, the discipline that housed her inexhaustible searching, and the method of inquiry that put all of my longing and curiosity to use crafting my little maps instead of mailing bombs to prominent capitalists — how could a scientific man take such an aggressively narrow-minded stance by using the word shittling? Though I knew the majority of scientists were still men, I wondered in that moment whether there was something innate about the XY chromosomal makeup, whether grown men with their leather jackets and their middle-aged entropic pudginess and their half-cocked cowboy hats could ever really be open-minded, curious, obsessed scientists like my mother, Dr. Clair. It seemed that men, with their Stenpock-like natures, were rather meant to open and close the same gate and work in the mines and hit railroad spikes into the earth in repetitive motions that satisfied their desire to fix the world’s problems using simple gestures done with the hands.

— Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, designed & largely illus. Ben Gibson, pp 49-50.

This illustrated novel about a precocious pre-teen seemed at the start to be fending off its most obvious threat, that of rancid adorability, but eventually failed in face of the next two challenges: creating a satisfying narrative around its quirky premise, and exploring the philosophical implications of that premise. What IS a map? Is it different from a diagram or an illustration or a chart (our protagonist seems to think of all of his drawings as maps)? Is TS’s obsessive mapmaking an exteriorization of every person’s desire to make sense of his life, or is it qualitatively different from a normal angle on the world?


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