I got my hands on the finished edition of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet the other day and fell in love with it all over again. The production standards were simply fantastic – it’s an incredible book and I think I’m going to get multiple copies from around the world for my collection.
There was one thing that disappointed me though. The original Afterword, which had been present in the manuscript I read some months ago, had been deleted. I’m not totally surprised – it did totally turn the whole book into an unreliable narrative and raise meta-fictional questions that could make the book just a bit too weird for some people. I loved it though and for anyone else like me I thought I would post the deleted Afterword here so you can make up your own mind about it.
WARNING: Do not read on unless you have already read The Selected Works of TS Spivet as it will give away much of the plot and possibly ruin your reading.
This book owes its genesis to a phone call I received from Gunther Jibsen four months after T.S.’s disappearance. I had just returned to a semblance of my old life in the Bozeman when Gunther phoned me at the university. He briefly described how the Smithsonian was planning a large retrospective of T.S.’s work and asked me whether I would consider curating the show.
Initially I was deeply conflicted about the proposition. The curator of such a retrospective faced a difficult task indeed: in my mind, T.S.’s notebooks represented one of the most important and unique scientific collections in America. As is the case with any exhibit, the curator must also grapple with the profound question of selection. There were nearly 700 of T.S.’s notebooks, and over 10,000 diagrams, maps and illustrations to sift through. With so much to choose from, what was one to display as “representative” of his work? I suppose my real fear about accepting the curatorship stemmed from my personal connection to its subject: could I venture into such a maze with the weight of T.S.’s disappearance still fresh in my memory?
After considering the offer for only a day, I phoned Jibsen back and accepted. I immediately took leave from the university and flew back east., where I moved into the Carriage House and set about designing a comprehensive show that would capture T.S.’s particular way of processing the world. In doing so, of course, I was forced to revisit the painful events of the last few months. The reader must forgive me if at times my objective curatorial eye slips into sentiment while recounting this recent history.
The night they fled Washington, the night of the speech, T.S. left this note for me on his desk in the Carriage House:
Dear Dr Yorn,
I needed to go back home. Father and I are driving west. Sorry to let you down. Maybe you can be the Baird Fellow now.
P.S. You may use my notebooks for whatever you like. I don’t need them anymore.
I have read and re-read this note many times, thinking it might contain some clues as to their whereabouts. What did T.S. mean that he didn’t need his notebooks anymore? Those notebooks were his life. Despite his blessing for me to use them, I wondered, after all he had been through in Washington, whether he would have truly condoned a public retrospective of his work.
As if on cue, the day after their departure, the notebooks arrived at the Carriage House. Nineteen boxes filled to the brim with red, green and blue notebooks, all covered in T.S.’s perfect little handwriting. A sad parade of genius.
I called Clair at the ranch, warning her of her husband and son’s imminent return. She seemed relieved they were coming home, though I can never tell with her. We did not speak long, but I agreed to fly back and wait with her. I was resolved to accept whatever wrath T.E. might unleash upon me. I deserved what was coming to me.
But the pickup never arrived. Two weeks, then three.
We called the police in every state between Montanna and Washington, DC. Two days later, the Indiana Highway phoned the Coppertop: they had found footage of the Spivet’s pickup passing through a toll booth on I-80 near Portage. But that was all.
I was not a superstitious person, nor did I believe Mr. Toriano or his report ever existed, but with all T.S.’s drawings of midwestern wormholes, one had to wonder. What if they were actually real? Did these wormholes have some larger, twisted logic to their selectivity? Were they not just a random churning of quantum foam that happened to erase certain travellers but actually a way of maintaining order in this universe? As soon as I went down this path, however, I quickly abandoned it–I was not a physicist or a philosopher, but a humble coleopterist with limited powers of imagination.
Regardless of their fate, I found I could offer little solace to Clair. As I suspected, the primary source of our intimacy was T.S.–she loved me as a kind of surrogate scientific father for him. With T.S. gone, she quickly became disinterested in me. Given the magnitude of her loss, I tried to give her the space she needed. This was not easy.
That fall, I took Gracie out to ice cream in Butte. She had just landed the lead in a regional production of My Fair Lady, and she showed off her spot-on cockney accent as we ate our Moose Tracks. We talked about NYU, where she wants to attend acting school, and American Idol. Beneath her constant chatter, I could sense her sorrow. I wanted to reach out and hold her, to cry with her over our loss, but I resisted. We made a plan to get ice cream again, but then the Smithsonian called about the exhibition and I promptly left Montana for Washington.
In sifting through his works, however, I started to notice some very disconcerting patterns. It was obvious to me that soon after his arrival in Washington, T.S. began inventing things. For instance: the Megatheriums never existed (at least I have never been a member), and as far as I could tell, there are no secret tunnels beneath the mall. By all accounts, T.S. and his Father simply left the Capitol building through the same entrance they had come in.
For me this was the real tragedy: trapped by the madness of the adults around him, T.S. had retreated into a fantasy world. Yet T.S. was a committed empiricist (even if he was a twelve-year-old-empiricist), and only a great trauma would have caused him to abandon the coordinates of reality and conjure such inventions. I have kept these inventions intact. It is my belief that in order to really understand T.S., we must understand all of his creations.
In truth, I became somewhat obsessed with the sanctity of the editorial process. When Dr Clair refused to let me use any of her writing in my book, I became very upset and said some things that I now regret. This was the last time we spoke.
“Never let your work trap you into a corner,” she once said to T.S.–a warning which I have not heeded.
Seven months passed before I showed a section of the book to Gunther. He had expected something different, quite different. He was offended and disagreeable (can I blame him, really?), and he promptly informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I was relieved of my duties. He would take over as Chief Curator of the Spivet Retrospective.
I suppose it was inevitable. I had prepared a contingency plan for just such an event, and so, before leaving Washington, I spent two nights making copies of all the drawings I had referenced in my book. And then I quietly returned to my unassuming life as Associate Professor of Insect Biology at Montana State in Bozeman.
From afar, I secretly dreaded what the Smithsonian would cook up as an “exhibition” of T.S.’s work. I would check their website often, scour their magazine for some mention of the upcoming exhibit. Gunther had not been as willing or as able to admit certain mistakes he had made in handling the whole situation. I do not want to assign blame, per se, but this was a child we were talking about, a helpless child, who fell victim to the whim of our own desires …
Finally I broke down and phoned him. I didn’t care if there was bad blood between us: my investment in T.S. was too great for me not to know the exact nature of the show’s composition.
Expecting that slippery lisp of his on the other end of the line, I was instead greeted by a very tidy voice – a female voice, no less.
“Can I speak with Gunther Jibsen, please?” I asked, thinking perhaps I had dialed the worng number.
There was a pause, and then she said, “Mr Jibsen does not work here anymore.”
“And what of the Spivet show?” I demanded.
“The what?” she said.
“The T.S. Spivet retrospective.”
“I’m sorry, sir, perhaps I can transfer you …” she said, and put me on hold.
I listened to the pleasant Musak for some time before finally hanging up. Several more calls merely confirmed my suspicion: the exhibition of T.S.’s work had disappeared into the proverbial abyss, with no plans for its resurrection.
And so it goes at these large institutions: what they choose to memorialize and what they choose to forget, is, more often than not, an exercise in chance. But fear not, dear reader – T.S.’s work had not been completely lost to us.
Given the circumstancesm it became my duty to release the book which you now hold in your hands. Maybe it is my way of thrusting the lance of empiricism into the belly of mediocrity, or at least an inadequate attempt at making right all that I have done wrong. It is my version of the fifth panel.
Whatever fate befalls these pages, whatever legacy awaits T.S. in the finicky annals of tim, the publication of this book will never dampen the pain of losing him. To this day, I miss him terribly.
— Terry Yorn