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all maninthewoods

Published on January 26th, 2011 | by Amy

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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.

Ec­co, 2010
Hard­back, 320 Pages

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