One of America's most important novelists (New York Times), the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The History of Love, conjures an achingly beautiful and breathtakingly original novel about personal transformation that interweaves the stories of two disparate individuals, an older lawyer and a young novelist, whose transcendental search leads them to the same Israeli desert. Jules Epstein, a man whose drive, avidity, and outsized personality have, for sixty-eight years, been a force to be reckoned with, is undergoing a metamorphosis. In the wake of his parents' deaths, his divorce from his wife of more than thirty years, and his retirement from the New York legal firm where he was a partner, he's felt an irresistible need to give away his possessions, alarming his children and perplexing the executor of his estate. With the last of his wealth, he travels to Israel, with a nebulous plan to do something to honor his parents. In Tel Aviv, he is sidetracked by a charismatic American rabbi planning a reunion for the descendants of King David who insists that Epstein is part of that storied dynastic line. He also meets the rabbi's beautiful daughter who convinces Epstein to become involved in her own project, a film about the life of David being shot in the desert, with life-changing consequences. But Epstein isn't the only seeker embarking on a metaphysical journey that dissolves his sense of self, place, and history. Leaving her family in Brooklyn, a young, well-known novelist arrives at the Tel Aviv Hilton where she has stayed every year since birth. Troubled by writer's block and a failing marriage, she hopes that the hotel can unlock a dimension of reality, and her own perception of life, that has been closed off to her. But when she meets a retired literature professor who proposes a project she can't turn down, she's drawn into a mystery that alters her life in ways she could never have imagined. Bursting with life and humor, Forest Dark is a profound, mesmerizing novel of metamorphosis and self-realization, of looking beyond all that is visible towards the infinite.
Hmm “one place” ... as in our mind? Yes! I love Krauss’s curious intellect and flashes of philosophy, and I settled in to this novel that interweaves the stories of two characters in existential crisis, one in mid-life and the other in late-life. And though I was continually rewarded with beautiful writing and interesting explorations of Jewish history and culture, I grew so mired in lengthy exposition and rumination, much of it in the mind of a character whose exhaustion transferred to me. That the ending presented an interesting ambiguity did energize me a bit, but I’m still shaking off the character’s listlessness.
(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
reader: Gabra Zackman
format: 8:19 Overdrive audiobook (~231p, 304 pages in hardcover)
listened: Nov 29 - Dec 8
Very much a writers book, with a lot of exploration of the imagination (sometimes through Jewish mysticism). This was tough on me, partially because I am reading a book in the same writer-focused abstracted vein at the same time, the combination of the two giving me no respite.
Krauss follows two characters who never meet, and their different but vaguely parallel failure to find meaning. Something changed in Jules Epstein, a successful lawyer and dominating talkative presence, after both his parents recently passed away. Finding himself uninterested in pushing back at the world, he gets a divorce, starts discarding all his wealth, leaves New York for Israel where Jewish mysticism offers him little, until he disappears.
Nicole, a fictionalized version of the author, and another divorcee, returns to Israel without a plan and finds herself involved with the previously hidden works of a hidden Kafka. This Kafka, in Kafka-esque fashion, didn't pass away in a sanitarium in Austria, but changed his identity and made an Aliyah where he lived a long quiet secret life as a gardener. Except it's not clear what's real and what's not and what, if anything, Nicole should make of it.
Other than an Israeli taxi driver with a gold tooth referred two in two lines, one in the opening section and one near the end, these two characters never seem to cross paths in anyway I could decipher.
This is my first book by Krauss, who has a reputation of being a really smart author who writes a lot about writing in her novels. All of that is true here. She was just a little too abstract and her meaning a little too obscured or hard to grasp for me to get more out of this other than interesting perspectives on Israel and Kafka.