Daily Features

Piecing Together the Story

In the mystery novel S., an inventive format demonstrates new ways that print can surprise and engage a reader

By Angela Riechers, Superscript December 18, 2013

The ways we read have become as varied as what we read. A new mystery novel called S. (Mulholland Books), a collaboration between filmmaker J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst with assistance from storytelling company, Melcher Media, is an homage to the art of the narrative. It also paradoxically blurs the boundary between the disparate experiences of print and digital reading.

To build excitement around the new book, S, J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst released a cinematic trailer for the story. © Mulholland Books

A printed (fake) history book, Ship of Theseus from 1949, by (fake) author V. M. Straka, is filled with handwritten marginalia as well as little notes, postcards, newspaper clippings, photos, and a map sketched quickly upon a coffee shop napkin tucked between its pages, comprising a dialogue between two readers named Eric and Jennifer. The book S. uses these familiar items, well-known to anyone who’s ever checked out a library title or bought a used book, to provide tangents and asides—content that’s of equal importance to the bound book, pieces that add up to a whole much in the way a reader assembles information from multiple sources on the Internet. The mystery can only be solved if a reader considers both narratives—that of the main book and the dialogue running throughout the ephemera and marginalia as well.

Two stories—one in the book itself and another in the margins—intertwine in S. to create a complex mystery. © Mulholland Books

“I hope [the reader] feels like they are opening a door into an experience, into a relationship, into a mystery and investigation, and a whole world that revolves around V.M. Straka, and I think that because the conversations are so funny, and their flirtation is so sweet, and the mystery is so compelling, and the danger is so real, that as you read it you get caught up in the drama of the story,” Abrams recently said in an interview with Slate. “The gimmick of the book is suddenly invisible, and it becomes as real as if you’d actually found this artifact of this love story and this mystery in a university library.”

Just as the book breaks with traditional formatting, the marketing campaign involves intricate videos. © Mulholland Books

The book’s structure mirrors the way in which we aggregate digital information to complete a narrative. As a hardcover (it’s also available as an e-book from iBooks), it is a lovely thing to behold and interact with: a set of objects within an object. Handling the bits of ephemera provides an intimate tactile hit that supports the reader’s experience of feeling that he or she has accidentally discovered them. Reading them feels intimate, highly personal, and a little dangerous, like taking a clandestine peek into someone’s diary.

Tucked within the pages  of S. are clues like postcards or newspaper clippings that help the reader unravel the story. © Mulholland Books

You Might Also Like

comments powered by Disqus