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Man in the Woods Hardcover – September 14, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Spencer, a deft explorer of obsessive love and violence, confronts the consequences of doing wrong for all the right reasons in his exquisite latest. Paul Phillips, a master carpenter, is living in bucolic upstate New York with Kate Ellis, the woman Spencer first introduced, along with her beguiling daughter, Ruby, in A Ship Made of Paper. But Paul's life begins to implode after a chance encounter results in an irrevocable act that no one witnesses, save a mixed-breed dog he renames Shep. Paul suffers the burden of his terrible secret: the fear of discovery and punishment and the equally disturbing fear of getting away with his crime. The incident and its fallout color his just-about-perfect life with lover Kate, now a recovered alcoholic turned famous inspirational writer, and particularly affects nine-year-old Ruby. As always, Spencer creates complex and genuine characters, the most marvelous character being Shep, the hapless rescue dog who endures abuse and becomes Ruby's pet. Spencer portrays the dog's life minus the sentimentality and anthropomorphism forced upon animals in fiction, and ingeniously uses Shep in this compelling story's dénouement--which underscores how even the most loving relationship might not be able to redeem a deadly act.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
What happens if we're not made to pay for our crimes? This question lies at the heart of Man in the Woods, a psychological and philosophical thriller about belief, guilt, responsibility, love, religion, and the randomness of life. Critics had mostly praise for the novel, with its intelligent plotting, gorgeous prose, powerful and serious tone, vivid characters (especially Kate), and commentary on turn-of-the-century America. A few reviewers thought that Spencer sometimes obscures his own message; others noted some uneven prose and dialogue. But the verdict is in: after reading the book, "you should expect to come out of the woods shaken, and satisfied" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).
Top customer reviews
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Here are three reasons to buy this book:
1) You've read and enjoyed any other novel by Scott Spencer and you're wondering if this one will also be worth several hours of your time (it is).
2) You're a sucker for a good opening and you believe that a finely worded opening passage is almost certainly a precursor to a finely worded novel. Scott Spencer is a master opener (see the first sentence of ENDLESS LOVE) who knows how to grasp and hold onto a reader's attention. Consider the opening line of MAN IN THE WOODS:
"It might be for pity's sake -- for surely there must be pity for Will Claff somewhere along the cold curve of the universe -- but now and again a woman finds him compelling, and offers him a meal, a caress, a few extra dollars, and a place to stay, and lately that is the main thing keeping him alive."
3) You've read and pondered books like THE STRANGER and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and you are intrigued by stories of seemingly benign men in the aftermath of seemingly accidental crimes.
I have read and enjoyed every novel by Scott Spencer since his multi-million seller ENDLESS LOVE (1979) and can attest to the fact that if you are the kind of reader who appreciates literary fiction full of quality metaphor and careful attention to the details of the human heart and its interactions with the world, then there is an extremely high chance you will fully appreciate MAN IN THE WOODS.
Constant Reader II (a.k.a. Constant Listener)
There are some scenes which are written with real truth, such as the description of Paul's conversations while walking in the woods with his friend, and the behavior of the dog, but this book is so cluttered with characters and dead ends, that the reader feels pulled this way and that, to and fro, so that at times, the book almost derails itself. So many things are unclear; so many characters are introduced with nothing to add to the story; that if it weren't for the ending, I would have felt even more bewildered than I do.
**Spoiler alert** I suppose it would have been truly incongruous for this Christian woman to wind up living the rest of her life with a man who killed another, so I think I read the book with this assumption in mind. So, given that, why do we not learn more about her "conversion" - we know a little about her losing her faith (just a little) and even less about her gaining it. We don't learn anything about why the daughter seems so odd to begin with-and then she gets worse; we try to fill in the gaps wondering about the circumstances of her birth. Why is Paul's assistant a lesbian; why is his sister's husband having immigration problems; why is there a school acquaintance trying to glom on to the woman to get her daughter into college; why do we go into the eating habits of the cop, only to have him disappear; and why do we need the graphic description of the California man's plan and near execution of pay-back to his girlfriend?
The scene near the end where 11 people converge on the house was borderline ridiculous. I give it 2 stars, only for those occasional glimpses of brilliance in writing.
I feel like the author just threw everything including the kitchen sink into this book, and the jumble and clutter really detracted from what was an essentially strong and interesting premise.