FOR­EST DARK

Ni­cole Krauss Blooms­bury; $24.99

The Monthly (Australia) - - VOX - STEPHANIE BISHOP

In the nov­els of Ni­cole Krauss, ob­jects of per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance – a book, a writ­ing desk, a coat – have a habit of be­ing lost, only to turn up later in some­one else’s life, in an­other coun­try. Nar­ra­tives ac­cu­mu­late around these items and the ef­fect is one of dou­ble­ness, with Krauss at­tend­ing to the his­tory of these lost things while si­mul­ta­ne­ously trac­ing their mys­te­ri­ous reap­pear­ance in the present. In the process, a set of char­ac­ters are linked through their con­tact with the given ob­jects. Krauss’ new novel, For­est Dark, re­lies on a sim­i­lar logic, with key items an­chor­ing lives that other­wise seek to float free of their hu­man bonds.

First, there is Jules Ep­stein, a wealthy New Yorker un­der­go­ing some­thing of a sea change. A lawyer by trade, he sud­denly finds him­self drawn to the in­ner life. He gives away his pos­ses­sions, takes to read­ing the works of a mys­ti­cal poet, and even­tu­ally dis­ap­pears to the Tel Aviv Hil­ton. Dur­ing his de­par­ture, he is har­ried by the loss of his coat the pre­vi­ous day.

We cut from Ep­stein to a fe­male writer in New York who is strug­gling in a fail­ing mar­riage and frus­trated by a novel that is go­ing nowhere. Ex­hausted and lonely, she re­turns home one day only to be over­come by a sense that she is al­ready there in the house, and that she is “in­hab­it­ing two sep­a­rate planes of ex­is­tence”. This un­named writer soon fixes upon the pos­si­bil­ity that her life as she knows it is an il­lu­sion be­ing dreamed by an­other ver­sion of her­self. This dream­ing self, she is cer­tain, could only ex­ist in the Tel Aviv Hil­ton. She packs a suit­case and books a flight.

The novel pro­ceeds by switch­ing be­tween these two char­ac­ters, and the plea­sure of the book rests largely in the high level of dis­junc­ture. Nei­ther of them knows quite what they are look­ing for, only what they are seek­ing to es­cape. And if they are linked by any­thing, it is the ab­stract de­sire for trans­for­ma­tion, for con­tact with a force larger than them­selves. Ul­ti­mately, both seek this in the Is­raeli desert.

But the jour­ney proves more fraught for the writer, and to­wards the end, after dis­cov­er­ing a mys­te­ri­ous coat in a shack, she has an epiphany, re­al­is­ing that what she has sought and missed is the trans­for­ma­tive pos­si­bil­ity of kairos, “the pass­ing in­stant when an open­ing oc­curs that must be driven through with force”. Yet if she fears the loss of this type of op­por­tu­nity, it is pre­cisely the ap­pear­ance of such mo­ments that For­est Dark so el­e­gantly charts. The re­sult is a strangely mov­ing work, charged with the idea of po­ten­tial and the dif­fi­culty of grasp­ing it.

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