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Man in the Woods Hardcover – September 14, 2010

3.5 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061466557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061466557
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,410,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Fairbanks Reader - Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Scott Spencer's Man in the Woods is a novel that chronicles the life of Paul Phillips, a man who has been on his own since he was sixteen years old. Paul is both a simple and a complex man - simple because he has relied on good luck and good looks to open many doors, and complicated because he is an artisan of deep convictions that he is unwilling to compromise. He is not a man to say very much but a lot goes on in his mind that does not come out in words. He creates beautiful furniture, crafts, and remodels with wood. Each type of wood speaks to him in its own way. He has never given a lot of thought to his life. Where he is and what he's doing have a way of simply falling into place. He has traveled around a lot, living in Alaska, South Dakota, Colorado and currently in rural New York State.

As the book opens, Paul is living with Kate Ellis, a character from Scott Spencer's previous book, A Ship Made of Paper. Kate has become quite famous recently for her book, `Prays Well With Others'. She is also sought after for speaking engagements and radio and television appearances. Her book is a best-seller and Kate considers herself a liberal Christian who believes deeply in the power of Christ and the lord. She is also a very sensual woman and her love for Paul is unconditional and unwavering. She wishes Paul would marry her but he seems to have an aversion to cementing the relationship though it is monogamous and committed. Kate's book and talks are about the day to day things in her life that she believes make her an `every woman' and also bring her closer to God. She is raising a daughter, Ruby, as a single mother with a mostly absentee father. Paul's relationship with Ruby is good though he does not try to substitute as her dad.
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Dear Fellow Reader,

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.

Sincerely,

Constant Reader II (a.k.a. Constant Listener)
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I recently finished Man in the Woods, and waited to write this review. I bought the book based upon a favorable review in the New York Times Book Review. From its basic description, it sounded like an American "Crime and Punishment"--early on, the protagonist kills a person of doubtful importance by contemporary standards, then lives with what he has done. As the story unravels, the weight of his action takes its toll. The novel is entirely different from Crime and Punishment, as it turns out, but was nevertheless a great psychological study not only of the protagonist, but the other imperfect characters that fill his life.

Other reviewers have criticized the book because, in their opinion, a lot of the side issues explored are not fully developed; I have to disagree. From a literary standpoint, I found the lack of full resolution very rewarding. The book invites the reader to ponder an issue, to develop his or her own views on an issue, and to observe how this issue affects the characters.

I also felt the book had some of the most memorable writing I've encountered in recent years.
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I finished this book a few days ago, and I still don't know quite what to make of it. It is the story of an essentially good yet unfettered man, who starts to make a life with a sober alcoholic single mother who has undergone a religious conversion and written a blockbuster. He happens upon a man beating and kicking a dog, and gets involved; it comes to blows; and this essentially good and somewhat free-spirited man winds up beating the man to death.

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.
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