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Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss


Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

Forest Dark is Krauss’s most metaphysical book.  In it, Krauss, author of History of Love and Great House, explores the notion of parallel lives through two very dissimilar protagonists: New York philanthropist and attorney Jules Epstein, and noted author Nicole (no last name).

Epstein is a complex man who, at 68, has been most comfortable in the material world. But now, after retirement from his law firm, his recent divorce, and especially, the death of his parents, he feels unmoored.  Like many of us at some point, he wonders what might have been had he taken another direction. As the narrator tells us:

[Epstein]…had been blinded by his ambition and appetite—for success, for money, for sex, for beauty, for love, for the magnitudes but also the nitty gritty, for everything visible, smellable, palpable. What might his life have been if he had applied himself with the same intensity to the spiritual realm? (p. 12)

In this frame of mind, while at a meeting concerning peace in the Mideast, Epstein is approached by a rabbi who is a mystic.  He tells Epstein that his name is part of the lineage dating back to King David. According to the Book of Solomon, King David was a man beloved, brutal, magnetic, and manipulative. He was a king who slayed thousands and to whom the Jews ascribed the most beautiful poems in the Bible—the Psalms. Epstein is a man of similar polarities.

Similarly, the second character, Nicole, is going through her own metamorphosis. She suffers from writer’s block and feels estranged from her husband. Nicole becomes obsessed with writing a novel set in the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv. Her parents were married there, and she has visited the hotel as a child every summer. Nicole believes it is a portal to other worlds.* Fantastic realms beckon, and she sets out for Tel Aviv to see if reality and dream are one. Once there, the most Kafkaesque portion of the book begins.

In the author’s note, Krauss cites the lines of Dante’s “Inferno” from which the book gets its title:

Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Forest Dark is a beautiful, dream-like novel that examines mid-life with all its messiness and complications. The novel explores dual realities in a way only a master storyteller could.

*Interview with Nicole Krauss, 9/27/17, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exJ4iCONTr4

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