Book Review: Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

My first full day in London. Bet I’m still jet-lagged! Below is a review of a great novel. It could be called Women’s Fiction, but maybe General Fiction is a better category for it.

This is not the first book I have read by Scott Spencer, but I guess I’d have to say it’s the best I’ve read so far. But I might feel that way, because I’ve just read it. I probably felt the same way after all the others.

There’s just something about Mr. Spencer’s books, his judicious use of passive voice and present tense, that makes his writing lyrical and melancholy. That’s the feeling I got from this novel, an underlying sadness. Something happened, something that was never supposed to happen, that could have been avoided if only Paul, the main character, hadn’t been where he was at the time he was. And still the event could have been avoided even then, but it happened and it was just plain bad luck that it did. It was traumatic. Life changing.

Once the event has taken place, and everything has changed, Paul has to adjust to it. And not only does it change his life, but the life of Kate, the woman with whom he lives. Kate showed up earlier in A Ship Made of Paper and I liked her then too, but since that time, she’s become a recovering alcoholic and written a self-help book called Prays Well With Others. She feels she’s been helped by God, that she has seen the light, that her life is now guided and she shares it with her readers, and because she is a superb writer, she becomes very successful. She and Paul live with her daughter, Ruby, in a rural farmhouse in upstate New York.

The event involves a dog. The dog witnessed the event, and Paul takes the dog to live with him. And Mr. Spencer proves he can capture the essence of the dog, as well as he does his other characters. The dog has a personality, a quiet animal with good days and bad days. He’s predictably sweet and Paul, Kate and Ruby settle in with him, until they can’t remember when he wasn’t around.

Paul is the strong, handsome type, a carpenter, completely smitten with Kate, and Kate loves Paul with a love so all-encompassing, it matters little that there are differences and silences between them. It’s a beautiful love story, and Kate might be a little quicker-witted than Paul, and she makes the majority of the money that supports their household, but that doesn’t matter to her. To be trite, he “completes” her.

There are internalizations of Paul and Kate, which seem to be essays in themselves. No dialogue, just beautiful words, masterful sentences. One of my favorites was one of Kate’s. She is on a timetable, always plotting, planning time for she and Paul to be alone together. He’s a little more casual, he doesn’t seem to recognize that there might be a half hour here or there, when they could be “together” like Kate does. She hurries through life in order to get back to Paul while his path through life is less planned.

An example:

She doesn’t mind doing the work, because of the reward. The slow fill of him as he notches his hips inch by inch closer to her, she enjoys the anticipation of the bright delirium sex unleashes in her, an extremity of emotion and abandon that she has never before experienced and never actually believed other people experienced, either, and she enjoys moving things around in her schedule so there is more time for them to be together. It’s like clearing brush so the flowers can be seen. But there is no question in her mind that if Paul were in her position right now he would not be thinking of how to get out of the city in time to be home so that there was a chance to lie next to her.

Scott Spencer is one of those authors who says so much in a few words, it’s as if each word is carefully chosen. I like to think of his wonderful sentences rolling off the keyboard one after another, but they are so perfect, I doubt that’s how it happens.

He is also a master of adult love affairs, the positive and negative aspects and with obsessive love, evident in his earlier novel, Endless Love, which was made into a movie. I have yet to see it, and maybe I never will because I’ve heard it’s different from the book and a bit, well, cheesy.

Once in a while, a graphic detail might pop out at you, and it can be a little shocking. I saw it in a couple of his other books but not this one so much.

When I’m reading a Scott Spencer novel, I like to read a chapter and think about what I’ve read before starting another. I’m going to be very disappointed when there’s no Scott Spencer books I haven’t read. I like to wait a while between reading them, because I find myself thinking for weeks about what I’ve read.

I give this novel five stars. An enthusiastic five stars.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

  1. hi Lynn,
    I loved this review. I wondered if you were willing to do a read and review of my book dealing with a similar subject matter. of course, once you are back from your trip to Brittain. ( I hope your trip is wonderful and rewarding.)
    I would send you a PDF doc of the ms and you could reply by email joeke3@shaw.ca. I need one more review to be able to list it as Ebook on other Ebook sites.
    If you like me to return the favor I would be honored to do that.
    Johanna van Zanten

    • Johanna, thanks for the comment. Yes, I would be interested in a review-swap. I will contact you and attach a .pdf document of Perigee Moon. When you get it, if you respond with an attachment of yours, that would be good. I won’t be able to get to it until the middle of September. We managed to lose the Kindle on the plane, so far have not recovered it. Good news! I can now get a Kindle Fire to replace it!

  2. Sounds like a intriguing read. It’s interesting that he writes in passive voice, something we’re so often warned against doing. I think it’s a reminder that although we can heed the rules, sometimes we can color outside the lines as well.

    Enjoy your first few days in London!

    • Carrie, it was a very good novel. Scott Spencer is one of my favorite authors. He doesn’t write entirely in passive voice, but once in a while I notice it. He’s the type who would do exactly what he wanted, and not adhere to any how-to writing rules!

Comments gratefully accepted:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s