One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.
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.
S., conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, 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, and it is also Abrams and Dorst’s love letter to the written word.
REVIEWS & FEATURES:
11/30: Doug will be on the sales floor at BookPeople in Austin from 1-2 pm today in support of IndiesFirst!
11/28: The Chicago Tribune reviews S.
11/23: From The New Yorker's Page-Turner blog: “The Story of S.: Talking with JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst.”
11/11: Fast Company looks at the S. project.
11/8: A conversation between JJ, Doug, and editor Josh Kendall is up at The Slate Book Review.
11/8: Neil Gaiman interviews JJ & Doug for BBC Newsnight.
11/7: A wonderful review from tor.com.
11/6: S. enters the New York Times Bestseller List at #8!
11/6: Kirkus Reviews has a feature on Doug and S.
11/3: Doug joined Brad Listi for the Other People podcast.
10/31: Publishers Weekly gives S. a starred review.
10/30: JJ talks about the book with PBS’s Tavis Smiley.
10/29: CBS This Morning's feature on JJ, Doug, and S.
10/28: JJ, Doug, and S. in the New York Times.
Radio Straka is on the air!
There’ll be an S. event at Symphony Space in NYC on November 23 at 6 pm. JJ and I will be discussing the book and everything that went into making it. Lena Dunham will moderate, Sarah Vowell will introduce, and the event benefits 826NYC. So there are many layers of cool here. You can get tickets here.
Aug. 6: The Significant Objects book (published by Fantagraphics) comes out today—a hundred extraordinary tales about ordinary things. Doug’s story reveals the unsettling truth about a Russian figurine.
Oct. 19: Exciting news: KatzSmith Productions (David Katzenberg & Seth Grahame-Smith) has picked up the movie rights to Alive in Necropolis.
Sept. 29: Last reading of Surf Guru tour — tonight at BookPeople in Austin (7:00).
Aug. 2: The Surf Guru is released in paperback today!
June 1: The Surf Guru is longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award!
April 6: The big news: Doug’s next novel will be a collaboration with J.J. Abrams! It’ll be published by Mulholland Books in Fall 2012.
Oct. 25: Listen to Doug reading “The Surf Guru” for KQED’s The Writers’ Block.
Oct. 20: Austin video artist Amanda Joy turns Doug into a lizard for his Teleportal Reading at the Texas Book Festival.
Sept. 28: San Francisco gigs this weekend! West Coast Live on Saturday morning (KALW 91.7, live stream available), Green Apple Books Saturday afternoon, and Litquake’s "Words and Waves" event Monday evening.
Sept. 8: BookPeople reading tonight at 7:00!
Aug. 22: TSG gets some good ink from the Dallas Morning News.
Aug. 3: The Rumpus Book Club interviews Doug Dorst.
July 31: There’s a full-page review of TSG in this Sunday’s NY Times Book Review.
July 30: The Boston Globe has an enthusiastic review.
July 22: Seattle reading at Elliott Bay Book Co., 7:00pm. First stop of the tour!
July 21: A nice review in Texas Monthly.
July 21: The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog looks at TSG.
July 18: A profile in the Austin American-Statesman.
July 16: Check it out: a review of TSG in comic form.
July 15: The Surf Guru hits the shelves today!
July 15: The Surf Guru playlist on Largehearted Boy.
July 14: There’s a feature about the book in this week’s Austin Chronicle.
July 7: The Surf Guru makes New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix, under “Highbrow/Brilliant.”
May 26: The Rumpus Book Club has chosen The Surf Guru as their pick for July!
With the publication of his debut novel, Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst was widely celebrated as one of the most creative, original literary voices of his generation—an heir to TC Boyle and Denis Johnson, a Northern California Haruki Murakami. Now, in his second book, The Surf Guru, his full talent is on display, revealing an ability to explore worlds and capture characters that other writers have not yet discovered.
In the title story, an old surfing-champion-turned-surfwear-entrepreneur sits on his oceanfront balcony watching a new generation of surfers come of age on the waves, all but one of whom wear wetsuits emblazoned with the Surf Guru’s name. An acid-tongued, pioneering botanist who has been exiled from the academy composes a series of scurrilous (and hilarious) biographical sketches of his colleagues and rivals, inadvertently revealing his own story. A pair of 21st century drifters course through the book, struggling their way through a series of unusual adventures in their dilapidated car, chased west out of one town and into the next, dreaming of hitting the Pacific.
Dorst’s characters have all successfully cultivated a particular expertise, and yet they remain intent on moving into the horizon, seeking hope in something new. Likewise, each of Dorst’s stories is a virtuoso performance balancing humor and insight, achieving a perfect pitch, pulsing with a grit and punchy, distinctly American realism—and yet always pushing on into the unexpected, taking us some place new.
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (Editors’ Choice): "Wide-ranging and technically daring… Sharp and satisfying… Brim[ming] with gumption."
BOSTON GLOBE: "[A] literary feat: a sophomore work of fiction that both highlights [Dorst’s] gifts and extends his range.”
TEXAS MONTHLY: "[A] freewheeling collection….The Surf Guru is great fun, a showpiece that manages to seem worldly and unpretentious at once.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS (Starred review): “[A] varied, inventive collection of stories….Rarely in debut story collections does a writer succeed in showing versatility and range without the book devolving into a miscellany, but Dorst expertly manages the feat…. In this funny, poignant, risk-taking and mostly splendid collection, Dorst confirms the promise of his acclaimed first novel.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “…[A] mix of lively imagination and love of craft are on display in this excellent collection…. The humanity in Dorst’s characters can break a reader’s heart.”
AUSTIN CHRONICLE: "Electric…astonishing, deeply imagined…no story is like any other story in The Surf Guru.”
BOOKLIST: “[C]onsistently finds the sweet spot between humor and pathos… [A] well-crafted and compulsively readable collection…. Imaginative and compelling.”
THE OREGONIAN: “Dorst writes about the disappointed and the irresponsible from all walks of life with such authority and nuance, such generous spirit and empathy at describing life’s turns of fate…. The Surf Guru is as mixed in tone as it is in spirit, inspiration and subject matter. There’s a true diversity too infrequently found in collections…. [A] delightful and courageous effort that’s well worth the read.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES: “[A] brazen, roiling, confident collection.”
SUITE101.COM: "Dorst seems to channel a sense of doom, a hope for humanity, and a bit of macabre humor in his new short story collection…. [T]he book seems haunted by past authors, but in a happy way; nothing is expected, and everything feels new."
PRAISE FOR THE SURF GURU:
“The Surf Guru is one of the best collections I’ve read in years. Formally innovative, full of humor and terror and compassion in equal measure, and spanning an astonishing range of settings and characters, these stories renewed my faith in the short story as an art form. Dorst’s work is utterly unique and visionary.” - Dan Chaon, author of Among the Missing and Await Your Reply
"The stories in The Surf Guru are unusual not just for the frequent genius of their conceits, but for the tremendous sympathy they demonstrate toward characters who struggle with love, loneliness, and disappointment. Doug Dorst writes with a big, unbridled imagination and a big, commiserating heart, and the results, by turns devastating and hilarious, are always deeply moving.” - Chris Adrian, author of The Children’s Hospital and A Better Angel
Colma, California, is the only incorporated city in America where the dead outnumber the living. A “cemetery city” serving San Francisco, Colma is the resting place of the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, and William Randolph Hearst. It is also the home of Michael Mercer, a rookie cop trying to go by the book as he struggles to navigate a new realm of grown-up relationships—including a shaky romance with an older woman, a burgeoning alliance with his cocky, charismatic partner Nick Toronto, fading friendships from his civilian life, and an aching sense of responsibility for a local rich kid whom Mercer rescues from a dangerous cemetery prank.
But instead of settling comfortably into adult life, Mercer becomes obsessed with the mysterious fate of his predecessor in the Colma PD, Sergeant Wes Featherstone, who seems to have spent his last years policing the dead as well as the living. As Mercer delves deeper into Featherstone’s story, his own sanity starts to slip, too—either that, or Colma’s more famous residents are not resting in peace as they should be.
With all the eerie playfulness of Haruki Murakami and the intrepid imagination of a young T.C. Boyle, but with a voice and vision all his own, Doug Dorst has fused suspenseful, atmospheric storytelling with unabashed creativity and craftsmanship into an irresistible, unforgettable debut.
PRAISE FOR ALIVE IN NECROPOLIS:
"A daring and big-hearted first novel." - New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
"Not quite a horror story, nor exactly a mystery, nor just a hard-boiled police procedural, but an adult coming-of-age saga that pulls with energy and imagination from these various genres….Shot through with streaks of black humor to vivd, insightful effect…Alive in Necropolis proves truly haunting.” - San Francisco Chronicle (Lit Pick)
"Imaginative and accomplished…pitch-perfect." - USA Today
"Dorst defies conventional storytelling—at once grim and playful, he weaves the supernatural seamlessly into this "straight" story and the result is effortlessly imaginative, funny, and poignant. Fans of Auster, Jonathan Carroll, and Haruki Murakami will want to make room on their nightstand for their next new favorite.” - Amazon.com (Best Books, July 2008)
“Dorst strikes a perfect balance between humor and pathos. His ability to show the magic potential of everyday lives marks him as an author to watch.” - Publishers Weekly
"Dorst has the control and daring possessed by only the greats of each generation. He writes with humor and wisdom that is rare, and an empathy for his characters that is warm and complex and unique." - Stephen Elliott, author of Happy Baby
"Virtuosic, wildly original, and frequently hilarious…Dorst takes a thousand death-defying risks and succeeds." - Julie Orringer, author of The Invisible Bridge and How to Breathe Underwater
“I read Doug Dorst’s Alive in Necropolis with that rare sense of mounting excitement you feel when you realize someone is perfectly executing a difficult feat, crossing a high wire without making one wrong step. Reader, let me assure you: he makes it to the other side.” - Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead
“You will never read a more exciting debut novel than Doug Dorst’s funny and fiercely imagined Alive in Necropolis. Here, peace officers patrol a city of cemeteries, and the living and dead walk the same streets and lawns, haunting each other’s worlds. Prophetlike, Dorst can place his hand on the marble of a tomb and conjure the human story within. Alive in Necropolis contains the mystery, grace and glow of the human soul. So open this book, step into its light.” - Adam Johnson, author of Parasites Like Us and Emporium
"A memorable and singular achievement. Moving seamlessly between straightforward realism and supernatural fantasy, between the daily life of a policeman and a cemetery full of vivid ghosts, this novel has an amazing sweep-both wisely compassionate and slyly hilarious at the same time. Doug Dorst is a true original." - Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me
“In his first novel, Doug Dorst provides an excellent example of how a new group of writers with literary aspirations are adept at mixing high and low culture into novels that are as entertaining as they are insightful. Dorst takes a story about a prototypical slacker and turns it into something fairly profound, an investigation of relationships between lovers, friends and, always lurking in the background, fathers and sons. It’s also a memorable look at the corroding effects of obsession. All that, plus a ripping ghost story…. Dorst not only manages to weave these seemingly disparate threads into a satisfying whole, he also explores complexity of relationships in a way that your average ghost story thriller is not even going to touch.” - Tampa Tribune
Doug Dorst is the author of Alive in Necropolis, which was honored as San Francisco’s 2009 One City One Book selection, winner of the 2009 Emperor Norton Award, runner-up for the 2009 PEN/Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, and IAFA/Crawford Awards, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and one of Amazon.com’s Best Books of 2008.
His short story collection, The Surf Guru, was also an NYTBR Editors’ Choice as well as a Rumpus Book Club selection. His stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, ZYZZYVA, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies Significant Objects and Politically Inspired.
His first play, Monster in the Dark, a collaboration with foolsFURY Theater Company, had critically-acclaimed runs in San Francisco and Berkeley in 2008. SF Weekly cited Monster in naming foolsFURY San Francisco’s Best Theater Company of the year.
Doug is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and he has received Fellowships from the Michener-Copernicus Society and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Austin and is an associate professor of English at Texas State University in San Marcos. He also serves on the advisory board for Austin Bat Cave, a non-profit writing center for kids.
A three-time Jeopardy! champion, Doug appeared on the show’s 2006 Tournament of Champions.