MAN IN THE WOODS by Scott Spencer

Book Quote:

“It is so difficult to think. He clenches his jaw. This much he knows: his life is a coin that has been flipped and now against the darkening sky it turns over and over.

From the morass, there rises a question: How can this be happening? And he wishes suddenly, fervently, that there was a God looking on, with his eye on the sparrow and everything else, knowing what we did, what we meant, what we did not mean, what was deliberate, what was accidental, what was so perplexing and mixed you couldn’t with any confidence say what was what.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (SEP 14, 2010)

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.

As the book opens, Paul has gone to see about work in Manhattan and is not thrilled about the quality of the job he is being asked to do. He is reticent to accept the contract. Money does not play a huge part in his life though he makes more than enough to get by. With Kate’s success, money is the very least of his problems and Kate is happy enough to support them both. On his way back home, he stops in a park near Tarrytown to sit and think, to ponder his life and his reasons for being so strongly opposed to the possibility of the work he was just offered. Though Paul thinks he is alone, he soon realizes that there is someone else close by, a man and his dog.

The man with the dog is Will Claff, though that is not the name he goes by anymore. He has traveled from his home city of Los Angeles around the country, changing his name in each place he stops. His modus operandi is that he usually meets a woman who takes pity on him and will put him up for a while. Will tells the woman that he has traveled to her community to take a job but the person who offered him the job committed suicide right before Will arrived. Thus, he is without work and without means. The truth is that Will has about five thousand dollars in gambling debts and he is paranoid that the people he owes money to are out to get him and surely will kill him once he’s found.

Will has just finished jogging, and as the paths of these two men cross, Paul witnesses Will being cruelly sadistic to his dog. This is not an act that Paul can tolerate and, impulsively, he acts in a way that will change his life forever. This can be a theme in Spencer’s books – the idea of one impulsive act forever creating a changed and damaged life – and is observed in A Ship Made of Paper and Endless Love.

From this day onward, Paul wonders about himself, about his core essence and how civilized he truly is or isn’t. He questions whether he is feral, an animal at the core and not a good man. The book is beautifully written and dramatically unfolds. It is deep, thrilling, and unbearably difficult to read at times. Spencer has created a gem, a modern look at good and evil. While he provides the questions, the answers and judgments rest in the hands of the reader.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 21 readers
PUBLISHER: Ecco (September 14, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Scott Spencer
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

A Ship Made of Paper


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September 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, NE & New York

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