Book review of “Forest Dark” by Nicole Krauss
In Nicole Krauss’ newest novel, she presents us with two people in parallel stories, both of whom travel to Israel from York, but these two never meet. There is Jules Epstein, a wealthy man attempting to divest himself of his money before he dies, with the aim to use it, at least partially, with a project in memory of his parents. The other character is Nicole, a novelist with writer’s block (who isn’t Krauss, but rather a semi-fictionalized version of herself), attempting to jump-start her novel about the Tel Aviv Hilton through this trip. Nicole also seems to have the need to escape from her life including her rut of a marriage.
One thing that stands out as mutual between these characters is their motivations in finding something that seems just beyond their reach, but which could bring them solutions. To achieve this, Krauss sends each of them off to Israel, and then places obstacles into their paths. With Epstein, this is a chance encounter with Menachem Klausner, a rabbi who is positive that Epstein is descended directly from the biblical King David. This rabbi seems to interrupt Epstein’s search for how to spend his vast fortune, while at the same time, inadvertently gives him the perfect project. To waylay Nicole’s writing of her book, Krauss has Nicole’s cousin introduce her to Eliezer Friedman, a seemingly retired professor of literature (who might have once been in the Mossad or both). Friedman has a theory about the untold story of Franz Kafka’s death (or in this case, his life after he faked his death in 1924), which he needs Nicole to write. Together with these, Krauss connects the two characters with the Tel Aviv Hilton, where both characters stay during parts of their trips.
Aside from these parallel types of story-lines, the major method that Krauss uses to distinguish between these two characters is in their voices. By this, I mean that Krauss gives Epstein’s story a third-person narrator, while Nicole tells her own tale in first person. This unusual combination of voices has an impact on the reader, in that we feel a more personal connection with Nicole, but have the ability to observe things about Epstein, which he may not even know about himself. Furthermore, with Epstein, we get more of his personal history, but with Nicole, the focus is more on this particular set of events, with minimal back-story. In my other review of this book, I likened this to having the wide-angle lens on Epstein’s life, with the close-up shots reserved for Nicole. Finally, both stories include some fantastical, yet realistic passages describing experiences that range from philosophical to humorous to spiritual to even existential. I’d say more, but that would necessitate including plot spoilers.
Although this may not seem obvious from what I’ve written above, I think I finally understand the reason why I love Nicole Krauss’ books. As personal as this is, I think they make me feel like all the choices I’ve made in my life – particularly the bad ones – impact me in a positive way. In other words, I’m not a failure, even when things don’t work out the way I might have wanted. What makes me feel this way is how Krauss presents her readers with characters who do unexpected things, and get both expected and surprising results. Of course, it helps that I’m precisely the type of reading public for this book. I’m Jewish; I have more than a passing acquaintance with Israel, and; I’m not afraid to read works that challenge me intellectually, or that border on the speculative. That said I’m well aware that I’m in the minority here, and this book (much like her previous novel, Great House) might not appeal to many general fiction readers. Personally, that doesn’t bother me, because Krauss writes so beautifully, and her stories are so engrossing, and I love how they make me emotionally attached to her characters, so I have to give it a full five stars, and I might even go as far as to say this book is a true masterpiece.
“Forest Dark” by Nicole Krauss, published by Harper Collins, release date August 24, 2017 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.