Man Walks into a Room

Nicole Krauss

Not long after unpacking my books after moving, a friend asked for a book recommendation, and I pulled The History of Love off the shelf, which reminded me that I had put this one, Krauss’s first novel, on my list a while back. The History of Love has stayed a favorite of mine for several years and her next book Great House treads in pretty similar territory; so it was a surprise how different this book felt.

Most of the story is from the perspective of a man who was found wandering in the desert, with no memory of who he is. This turns out to be caused by a tumor, but after surgery only part of his memories return. Everything that happened to him after he was twelve is gone, though his brain neurologically appears to be that of an educated, thinking person and he is able to create new memories. The lost time, instead of being absent entirely, feels like a vast, blank space, and he doesn’t have much inclination to try to recover what once filled that area. He would rather hold on to the emptiness, which leads to a difficult situation with his wife. It also makes him a prime candidate for the experiments of a scientist who believes he can create “true empathy.”

What struck me most about Man Walks into a Room is that I couldn’t really guess where it was headed much of the time. There wasn’t a predictable arc, beyond what is likely outlined in a short description. Sometimes foreshadowing can guide a reader along too heavily. It was nice to feel a little lost, wondering where things would end up.