Forest Dark

Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love has been a standby favorite I recommend to people often — something I’ve noted while writing about every subsequent book of hers that I’ve read. Realizing now that it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve read it makes me think it’s time for a re-read, especially after feeling let down by this new novel.

Forest Dark is a very personal book, approximately half the story involves a writer named Nicole at the end of a marriage that has become entirely focused on the shared parenting of the children. It gets rather self-referential about writing and creativity, with several moments where Nicole ponders on questions of writing and narrative:

Why had I really come to Tel Aviv? In a story, a person always needs a reason for the things she does. Even where there appears to be no motivation, later on it is always revealed by the subtle architecture of plot and resonance that there was one. Narrative cannot sustain formlessness any more than light can sustain darkness — it is the antithesis of formlessness, and so it can never truly communicate it. Chaos is the one truth that narrative must always betray, for the creation of its delicate structures that reveal many truths about life, the portion of truth that has to do with incoherence and disorder must be obscured. More and more, it had felt to me that in the things I wrote, the degree of artifice was greater than the degree of truth, that the cost of administering a form to what was essentially formless was akin to the cost of breaking the spirit of an animal that is too dangerous to otherwise live with. One could observe the truth of the animal at closer range, without the risk of violence, but it was a truth whose spirit had been altered.

The other part of the story involves a man Jules Epstein who at 68 is going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage. A wealthy, retired lawyer, he feels compelled to give away his worldly goods, to the concern of those closest to him. Both characters end up in Tel Aviv for their own reasons, and both are going through metamorphoses, freeing themselves from the constraints of their lives. And appropriately Franz Kafka becomes part of the story.

For a novel that seems so personal, it felt very cerebral to me. I wanted to have a more emotional connection to it. But I did appreciate how Krauss describes Israel, the physicality of it as well as its fraught history and idealism. I will be less like to recommend this book, but it may continue to reverberate with me even so.