Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

Scott Spencer’s Man in the Woods is an interesting look at different ways guilt affects us over time, especially as our past insurrections disappear into the darkness of the past. The irony is that our past casts long shadows well into our futures. How does one forget serious crimes or the ultimate betrayals when our minds constantly weave a web of connections, series of events that prevent us from pushing things into the past when they insist on being addressed?

The story’s protagonist, Paul, is a large, burly man with a sensitivity that endures him to everyone. Spencer seems to choose the name Paul to have the reader recall a Paul Bunyan image, yet this Paul would have not only an ax in one hand but a bouquet of flowers in the other. He is a man who has fallen into a good situation after a lifetime of wandering the country as a handyman. His girlfriend, Kate, has recently become a modern patroness of the fallen woman who failed balancing marriage, child, and career by falling into alcoholism. Her recovery becomes an inspiring story, one that she recounts in a book, public appearances, and even a radio show. Her recovery and success seems to be the strength that Paul is looking for to survive his past.

While trying to clear his mind of financial concerns, Paul goes to a park to clear his mind. While there he encounters a man who brutalizes a dog. When Paul cannot resist coming to the dog’s defense, a struggle ensues and Paul ends up regretting his decision. What follows is the story of Paul contending with a crime he knows he has committed but cannot come to grips with whether or not it was justified. As an investigation begins, the reader witnesses how dots are connected eventually bringing Paul and Kate to face their pasts and make decisions that will determine their individual and collective fates.

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