Published on January 26th, 2011 | by Amy0
You Think You Know Yourself, Until. . .
Every now and then, a book comes a long that is so much like real life that it’s truly unsettling to read. So it is with Scott Spencer’s new novel, Man in the Woods. You’re wondering what any of these people have to do with each other, and in the space of a few moments, after a casual choice that could’ve gone either way, everything is different.
The premise is simple: Paul, a high-end carpenter quasi-married to a recovering alcoholic turned successful spiritual writer, stops off in a state park on his way home from work, to clear his head after a melancholy afternoon. By chance, he meets a stranger, out jogging with a dog. The stranger begins to beat the dog, and, perhaps a little off his game from the afternoon’s events, Paul is overcome with anger, which leads to a fight. It is in his descriptions of this kind of impulse and emotion – familiar to any reader, yet unexplored – that Spencer makes his mark:
The strangest thing about it is that he isn’t really all that mad, or at least he is not
whirling in some mind-altering vortex of fury. He is coldly angry, and even in
his anger he mainly wants to put a stop to the whole fight before the man lands
another lucky punch. And even as his anger increases—as the numbness in his
lips turns to pain, and he wonders if that head butt has cost him a tooth—it is not
the kind of anger that is a portal to madness. No. What is taking place is more like
a realignment of inner forces, in which the voice of reason grows fainter and the
voice of animal instinct becomes more and more dominant, expressing itself in a
long, low, guttural roar. Except for that interior road, Paul feels strangely calm.
For the rest of the book, Paul must come to terms with what happened in the woods, both emotionally and practically. Life goes on, but the entire family finds itself on new emotional ground, wondering, what is violence? What is love? Against the backdrop of the unease surrounding Y2K – a fitting time for a story about consequences that may or may not materialize – Spencer explores the inner landscape of a man who thought he knew himself.
Where a lesser writer might get bogged down in the world of the interior, Spencer is sure- footed; there is always that lingering suspense in the external world. Is this really over and behind us? If a moment feels a bit slow at the time, keep reading; every incident is a puzzle piece, and the blank space at the end of the last page is devastating.
Hardback, 320 Pages