Man in the Woods

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Overview

One of the most acclaimed modern American novelists, Scott Spencer captures the intensity of human passion—and its capacity to both destroy and redeem—with unparalleled precision and insight. Now, in his most stunning novel yet, this wry, witty, and deeply sensitive writer returns to the territory of his New York Times bestseller A Ship Made of Paper, in a gripping and provocative psychological thriller of morality and manhood, choice and fate.

Paul has been on his own since he ...

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Man in the Woods

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Overview

One of the most acclaimed modern American novelists, Scott Spencer captures the intensity of human passion—and its capacity to both destroy and redeem—with unparalleled precision and insight. Now, in his most stunning novel yet, this wry, witty, and deeply sensitive writer returns to the territory of his New York Times bestseller A Ship Made of Paper, in a gripping and provocative psychological thriller of morality and manhood, choice and fate.

Paul has been on his own since he was a teenager, leading a life of freedom and independence, beholden to no one and nothing. Fearless, resolute, and guided by his own private moral code, he has hunted for food in Alaska, fought forest fires, and been deputized in a manhunt for a kidnapper in South Dakota.

Once he thought his life would have no particular rhyme or reason, touched only by transient strangers. Then he meets the beautiful, intelligent, loving Kate Ellis and her daughter, Ruby, who offer order and constancy. But Paul is a man of deep convictions, and the compromises we all make to get along in the world elude him.

On his way home after rejecting a job remodeling a luxurious Manhattan apartment, Paul stops to gather his thoughts at a state park just off the highway. Instead of peace, he finds a man savagely beating a dog, and in a few fateful moments Paul is plunged into a world of violence and onto a tumultuous journey of self-knowledge, guilt, and redemption.

With the psychological acuity and razor-sharp prose for which he has been celebrated, award-winning, bestselling novelist Scott Spencer once again takes us on an unforgettable journey of manhood lost and found.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Two-time National Book Award nominee Spencer's tenth novel, following Willing (2008), is a psychological thriller in which a decent man, Paul, intervenes in a nasty situation and ends up killing another man, Will, in a state park outside of New York City. The incident greatly impacts Paul's life and the lives of those around him, bringing on a crisis of faith in his girlfriend, Kate, a successful Christian author/speaker, and also troubling Kate's daughter, Ruby. Spencer speculates here about how one can live with the knowledge of having perpetrated a terrible act without disclosing it to others, also pondering the existence of God and faith. Actor Christopher Burns does a masterly job of narrating this deeply complex tale that is at times difficult to follow but provides much to think about. For all listeners. ["An engaging page-turner," read the review of the Ecco: HarperCollins hc, LJ 6/15/10; the Ecco pb will publish in September 2011.—Ed.]—Stephen Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Parkersburg Lib.
Patrick Anderson
We don't often encounter novels that combine shrewd plotting, strong characters and gorgeous writing, but Scott Spencer's Man in the Woods does precisely that…This is a book to savor and read aloud, a book that is variously wise, funny and heartbreaking…one of the three best novels I've read this year…and if you pressed me, I'd put it at the top of the list.
—The Washington Post
Jayne Anne Phillips
A smart, haunting thriller with bass reverb and a pounding heart…Spencer transforms an eight thousand dollar gambling debt and a dog with two names into an enthralling literary ride…Spencer is an American master.
Francine Prose
In this brilliant novel, Scott Spencer further expands his range to embrace our relations with animals—with the loyal pets that consent to share our domestic lives, and with the darker, more alarming beasts that lurk within even the most compassionate and conscious human beings.
Ron Carlson
…while someone is killed right up front in…Man in the Woods, the murder doesn't operate as a motor for the action; instead, it glows like something toxic in the daily lives of the characters. It's as much a question as an act: What if you killed a stranger who had few ties to the world—a person no one might miss?…Spencer takes his model of the modern couple and uses a chance moment of violence to ask what they—and, by extension, we—are made of, to reveal the vagaries of personal conviction, the fragility of faith in ourselves and in a higher power. Paul awaits the consequences of his mistake with a horrible patience as they inexorably work their way back to him.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Spencer, a deft explorer of obsessive love and violence, confronts the consequences of doing wrong for all the right reasons in his exquisite latest. Paul Phillips, a master carpenter, is living in bucolic upstate New York with Kate Ellis, the woman Spencer first introduced, along with her beguiling daughter, Ruby, in A Ship Made of Paper. But Paul's life begins to implode after a chance encounter results in an irrevocable act that no one witnesses, save a mixed-breed dog he renames Shep. Paul suffers the burden of his terrible secret: the fear of discovery and punishment and the equally disturbing fear of getting away with his crime. The incident and its fallout color his just-about-perfect life with lover Kate, now a recovered alcoholic turned famous inspirational writer, and particularly affects nine-year-old Ruby. As always, Spencer creates complex and genuine characters, the most marvelous character being Shep, the hapless rescue dog who endures abuse and becomes Ruby's pet. Spencer portrays the dog's life minus the sentimentality and anthropomorphism forced upon animals in fiction, and ingeniously uses Shep in this compelling story's dénouement--which underscores how even the most loving relationship might not be able to redeem a deadly act. (Sept.)
Jayne Anne Phillips
"A smart, haunting thriller with bass reverb and a pounding heart....Spencer transforms an eight thousand dollar gambling debt and a dog with two names into an enthralling literary ride....Spencer is an American master."
Francine Prose
"In this brilliant novel, Scott Spencer further expands his range to embrace our relations with animals—with the loyal pets that consent to share our domestic lives, and with the darker, more alarming beasts that lurk within even the most compassionate and conscious human beings."
O Magazine
"Spencer has shown a powerful understanding of the price of passion. In this one, he explores the even more treacherous terrain of guilt, expiation, and longed-for salvation..."
Booklist
"Spencer, a master of piercing insight and letter-perfect prose, tantalizes to the last climactic sentence of this compelling exploration of the wages of guilt."
Salon.com
“A Ship Made of Paper rocks with suspense and daring.”
Newsweek
“The beauty of this novel lies not only in the telling but in its commitment to the passionate life.”
People
“A searching study of the chaotic side of love.”
Rudy Wurlitzer
"MAN IN THE WOODS reveals the talent and confidence of a master story teller at the top of his game....Scott Spencer holds the reader to his terrifying account every step of the way. A page turner from beginning to end."
USA Today
"This beautifully written novel is so much more than just a good read."
Philadelphia Inquirer
"The novel is at its most compelling as it traces the evolution of Paul’s inner turmoil... the precision of Spencer’s eye for vibrant similes remains a pleasure throughout..."
Huffington Post
"This is a book poised to take its place as an American classic."
O magazine
“Spencer has shown a powerful understanding of the price of passion. In this one, he explores the even more treacherous terrain of guilt, expiation, and longed-for salvation...”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[Spencer] writes love stories with such beauty that you want to savor every surprising phrase, but his intense, intriguing plots propel you to race along the pages. He does it again in his new book, a complex novel... fresh, and compelling."
Booklist (starred review)
“Spencer, a master of piercing insight and letter-perfect prose, tantalizes to the last climactic sentence of this compelling exploration of the wages of guilt.”
Washington Post
"We don’t often encounter novels that combine shrewd plotting, strong characters and gorgeous writing, but Scott Spencer’s "Man in the Woods" does precisely that."
Kirkus Reviews

In one of the richer efforts by the veteran novelist, a compelling setup and stunning conclusion compensate for the thematic navel gazing through the middle.

Spencer returns to the scene of A Ship Made of Paper (2003), a novel that elicited some of his best reviews, bringing back writer Kate Ellis, her daughter, Ruby, and their hometown of Leyden, N.Y. Yet this novel isn't exactly a sequel and can be read independently of the earlier work. Its protagonist is Paul Phillips, a master craftsman who refuses to compromise either his carpentry or his principles. He has become Kate's lover and a surrogate father to Ruby after doing some work at their house. The divorced Kate, previously a newspaper reporter, is now the bestselling author of Prays Well with Others, an inspirational account of her recovering alcoholism and embrace of faith. With hints of Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott in "her kind of Christianity, one that includes a fair amount of swearing and swagger, left-of-center politics, and all the sex your average heathen would enjoy," she has come to believe that her life has a plan, purpose and meaning, and that the love she shares with Paul is an essential part of that divine will. A Dostoyevskian complication drives the plot, as chance (or is it fate?) leads Paul to tragedy—an encounter with a stranger in the woods, a man beating his dog, that will change the lives of all concerned and upset the delicate balance that Kate and Paul have come to believe is their destiny.Ultimately, the novel's title could refer as much to Paul, who must come to terms with the man he has become, after he did what he never believed he could. What seems to some like "a universe in which the pieces fit together beautifully" just might be "a universe where nothing is guaranteed and nothing can stop bad things from happening."

The depth of the characters, the questions they ask and the challenge they confront stay with the reader long after the conclusion.

The Barnes & Noble Review

In Scott Spencer's new novel Man in the Woods, ordinary, cheerful, mild-mannered, Paul Phillips, is driving up the Saw Mill River Parkway from New York City one fall day when he decides to pull over at a state park and take a little walk. Arriving at a clearing in the trees, Paul discovers a man mistreating a dog. He rushes to the animal's defense, a struggle ensues, and Paul kills the dog's owner. With that single act, Paul's moral universe is shattered and his life is transformed. But, to what extent is Paul really guilty of murder for protecting a defenseless animal? Must he pay the full price for taking this cruel man's life? Or, maybe he can get away with it?

Scott Spencer once wrote that it was time for the American novel to awaken "from its long swoon of self-effacement" and return to its traditional subjects of "character and story," to once again confront "the big themes of history, family life," and so on. And to his credit, Spencer, the author of the novel Endless Love, about a teenage boy's infatuation with a girl that leads him to burn down her house, has in recent years bravely taken up his own challenge.

In Man in the Woods, Spencer wrestles with nothing less than the nature of Christianity and the notion of Jesus and His forgiveness for our sins, an unusual gambit for any contemporary mainstream novelist, most of whom are decidedly secular in their concerns. For this book, he brings back the characters of Kate and her daughter, Ruby, from his 2003 novel, A Ship Made of Paper, which dealt with racism and inter-racial love. Like that story, Man in the Woods is set in Leyden, a bucolic spot in the far northern suburbs of New York, where several of Spencer's novels have taken place, and a stand-in for his own quaint hometown of Rhinebeck in New York's Hudson Valley, about two hours north of the City.

In A Ship Made of Paper, Kate was an alcoholic whose white boyfriend was stepping out on her with a black woman. Now in recovery, Kate is living with Ruby and her new boyfriend, Paul, a carpenter. She is making a fortune from a book recounting her experiences of converting to Christianity and going on the wagon. Entitled Prays Well With Others -- it seems to be sort of an Eat, Pray, Love for drinkers.

Kate and the divinely sexy and kind Paul have a near perfect existence in Leyden, a place populated by young professionals who can afford to live in the large, comfortable, old farmhouses with their newly-renovated kitchens amid acres of pristine woodland. They are a fortunate bunch who need make only occasional working forays down to New York. And Paul is an ideal boyfriend, a kind of stand-in for Mellors, the gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley's Lover. He makes wonderful love to Kate, has a workshop with only a woodstove for heat, builds Kate a lovely studio, and collects, plain, solid 125 year old step ladders -- though, Spencer tells us, he does have dirty fingernails. He earns a good living renovating the homes of rich artists and the local gentry, and faithfully attends events at his almost-stepdaughter, Ruby's private school, in one of the old river mansions. But basically, what Paul likes best in life is "eating, drinking, sex, air, freedom."

These pleasurable pursuits are upended when Paul encounters the dog and his master in the park. Earlier, Spencer has created a palpable dread in the reader, and in the animal, at the fate that surely awaits the beast. When the dog's cruel master takes up his leash in preparation for an outing, the "dog scrambles up, tail wagging, but with a cringing, uncertain quality to his excitement, squirming and bowing."

After Paul kills the man, he tries to dump the dog, (or "God," spelled backwards, as Paul notes), who is the only witness to his crime. But the animal, who is an aged, cozy creature "laboriously gets up, section by section, and when he is standing at last he gazes at Paul." Paul can't help himself. He decides to take it home with him. The dog drops the stick he is carrying, and with "a quick lilac flash, a deep yet cryptic intimacy," licks his rescuer's hand. The dog is irresistible, the best character in the book -- and Spencer is obviously a close observer of canines.

The novel's human characters, however, with their smug, affluent existences, their faux, rural sequestrations, are less appealing. Kate is especially annoying, with her newfound Christianity, which manages to bypass some of the stricter exhortations of the traditional faith, permitting the taking of the Lord's name in vain, for instance, living "in sin," and occasionally, having kinky sex.

Perhaps this is intentional and Spencer is telling us you can't have it halfway. Indeed, the residents of Leyden are living in a fantasy of rural innocence, cushioned by those 21st-century kitchens. Suburbanization is encroaching on their piney woods, and the noise from the airplanes heading for nearby airports intrudes on the peace of the huge state park at the city's edge.

Eventually, Paul feels compelled to confess the murder to Kate. The couple makes a decision not to tell anyone and that Paul should not turn himself in. But the deed begins to take a toll on their lives, and to erode the contentment of the household. Ruby, particularly, despite the assiduous devotion of her mother and Paul, shows disturbing signs of dislocation and disaffection. And, just as we think that, finally, the question of Paul's culpability may have been resolved, there is a surprise. It is an ending that, to Spencer's credit, jolts us as wide awake as any novelist could want.

--Dinitia Smith

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611200232
  • Publisher: Dreamscape, LLC
  • Publication date: 12/21/2010
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

Scott Spencer

Scott Spencer is the author of nine previous novels, including A Ship Made of Paper, Waking the Dead, and the international bestseller Endless Love. He has written for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the New Yorker, GQ, and Harper's, and has taught writing at Columbia University, the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Williams College, and the Bard Prison Initiative. He lives in Rhinebeck, New York.

Biography

Scott Spencer once defined a novelist as "someone who sits around in his underwear all day, trying not to smoke." For Spencer, not smoking has been a productive occupation. His best-known novel, Endless Love, sold more than 2 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages. The story of teenage love and obsession has drawn high praise from other novelists, including Anne Tyler and Michael Ondaatje. Joyce Carol Oates wrote, "No description of Endless Love can do justice to the rich, startling and always intelligent tenor of [Spencer's] prose."

Less fortunately for Spencer, Endless Love also attracted the attention of Franco Zeffirelli, who directed a disastrous Brooke Shields vehicle based on the book (the 1981 movie periodically turns up on critics' lists of the worst movies of all time). But while Endless Love was, as Jonathan Lethem opined in Salon, a good book overshadowed by a bad movie, Spencer's next novel, about a political candidate haunted by the memory of his late fiancée, got an actual boost from Hollywood. After Keith Gordon filmed Waking the Dead in 1999 with Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly in the lead roles, the book was reissued, gaining thousands of new readers. As Spencer notes in an interview on his publisher's web site, "The best thing about having a movie made of your novel is that more people read the book."

Spencer published several books between the first edition of Waking the Dead and its reissue, including Men in Black, the tale of a literary novelist whose pseudonymous hackwork earns him sudden fame and fortune, and The Rich Man's Table, the fictional memoir of a Dylan-like folk singer's illegitimate son. The Los Angeles Times Book Review called Men in Black "the Cadillac of novels -- every word vibrating with a kind of shameless big-boned American grace."

With his recent novel A Ship Made of Paper, Spencer returns to his earlier themes: romantic obsession and overpowering desire. "What makes this brave, dazzling novel so impossible to put down is the urgency with which it makes you care about what happens to its characters: male and female, black and white, young and old," wrote Francine Prose. "Scott Spencer has a genius for observing dramatic everyday moments when the self crashes into the barriers of class and race and culture, together with infinite compassion for the wayward impulse that turns human beings into fanatics willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of romantic love."

Critics have credited Spencer with an ambitious prose style and a keen grasp of contemporary culture, but what distinguishes his work most is his ability to tap into the intense currents of emotion beneath the surface of domestic life. As New York magazine noted, "In a literary age marked by cool, cerebral fiction, Spencer writes from the heart."

Good To Know

In our interview, Spencer revealed his love for all types of music. "My daughter, son, and I are always making mix tapes for each other, sharing the music we love," Spencer shares. "I have no musical talent, but music is a part of nearly every day. I still love the music I grew up with -- from Elvis to Motown to Otis Redding -- but as I grow older I find more and more music to love. I have major CD storage issues."

Spencer has taught fiction writing at Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has written for The New York Times, Esquire, The Nation, GQ, and Rolling Stone, among other publications.

The film version of Endless Love, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, was (as TV Guide put it) "a notorious disaster," but it marked the film debut of three future stars: Tom Cruise, James Spader, and Jami Gertz. The movie's theme song won Lionel Ritchie an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

A Ship Made of Paper is the fourth novel of Spencer's that uses Leyden, New York as a backdrop.

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    1. Hometown:
      Rhinebeck, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 1, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B. A., University of Wisconsin, 1969

Read an Excerpt

Man in the Woods

A Novel
By Scott Spencer

Ecco

Copyright © 2011 Scott Spencer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061466571


Chapter One

It might be for pity's sake—for surely there must be pity for Will Claff
somewhere along the cold curve of the universe—but now and again a woman
finds him compelling, and offers him a meal, a caress, a few extra dollars,
and a place to stay, and lately that is the main thing keeping him alive.
He is thousands of miles away from his home. His income, his job, his professional
reputation are all long gone, and now he has been on the run for so long, living out
of one suitcase, changing his name once in Minnesota, once in Highland
Park, Illinois, and once again in Philadelphia, that it is becoming
difficult to remember that just six months ago he had his own office, a
closet full of suits, and a nice rental off Ventura Boulevard, which he
shared with Madeline Powers, who, like Will, worked as an
accountant at Bank of America.
He used to think that women wouldn't pay you any attention
unless you were dressed in decent clothes and had some money to
spend, but it isn't true. He has been underestimating the kindness of
women. Women are so nice, it could make you ashamed to be a man.
Here he was, running for his life, buying his shirts at the dollar store,
his shoes at Payless, and getting his hair cut at the Quaker Corner
Barber and Beauty College in Philadelphia. Will had a guardian angel
there, too, in the form of Dinah Maloney, whom he met while she
was jogging with her dog. Dinah, small and bony, with short russet
hair, worried eyes, and nervous little hands, was thirty years old, ten
years younger than Will, and she happened to take a breather on the
same bench he was sitting on, and somewhere in the conversation,
when she told him that she owned a catering service called Elkins
Park Gourmet, he said, "You should call it Someone's in the Kitchen
with Dinah," and saw in her eyes something that gave him a little
bump of courage. He invited her to coffee at a place with outdoor
seating, and they sat there for an hour with her dog lashed to the leg
of a chair. He told her the same story he had already worked a couple of times—
it might have been on Doris in Bakersfield, or Soo-Li in Colorado Springs,
or Kirsten in Highland Park—about how he had come to town for a job,
only to find that the guy who had hired him had hung himself with his own belt
the day before. A lot of women didn't believe this story, and some who did couldn't
figure out how that would mean he had almost no money and needed a place to stay,
but a small, saving percentage took the story at face value, or decided
to trust the good feeling they had about him. Dinah has turned out
to be one of those.
She was a spiky, truculent sort, wary of customers, suppliers, and competitors,
but ready to make Will (she knew him as Robert) the first man ever to spend the night
in her house, partly because he seemed to find her attractive and partly on the weight
of her dog's apparent trust of him. ("Woody is my emotional barometer,"
she said.) She was a shy, basically solitary woman, an expert in the
culinary arts, a baker, a woman who gave off the scent of butter
and vanilla, an arranger of flowers, all of which led Will to assume
in her an old-fashioned faithfulness. He saw only her plainness, her
lack of makeup, her loose fitting checkered pants, her perforated
tan clogs, the dark circles under her eyes from the late hours working
corporate dinners and Main Line birthday parties, and he assumed
that she had a lonely woman's lack of resistance to anyone
who would choose her. He had no idea that Dinah had another boyfriend,
whom she had been seeing for six years, one of the mayor's
assistants, a married man whose wife worked in Baltimore on
Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Will is grateful to be an American; he doubts there is anywhere
else on earth where you can lose yourself like he needs to get lost,
where you can just go from state to state, city to city, not like in
cowboy times, but, still, no one has to know where you are. You can
drive across a state line but it's only a line on the map and the tires of
your car don't register the slightest bump. There's no guard, no gate,
no border, no one asks you for an ID, because no one cares. First you
are here, then you are there, until you're in Tarrytown, New York,
and it's time for your afternoon jog. He's still trying to lose the belly
fat acquired in the kitchen with Dinah.
The new apartment smells of emptiness, fresh paint, take-out coffee,
and the dog, Woody, stolen from Dinah the day she finally came
clean with him.
Will parts the blinds with two fingers and peeks out the window.
The cars parked on his street are all familiar and he knows by
now who owns each one. There's no one unusual walking the street,
either. All very routine, all very familiar. He often reminds himself
that the great danger is complacency, the way you can get so used to
checking things over that the world becomes like wallpaper and you
get too used to everything being nothing until one day when there
actually is something unusual you don't even notice it. He goes over
the compass points, north south east west. "The lion sleeps tonight,"
he sings, surprising himself. The sudden merriment excites the dog,
a brown shepherd mutt, whose thick, graying tail thumps against
the bare wooden floor. Will imagines the people in Mi Delicioso,
the luncheonette downstairs, looking up from their yellow rice and
chicken.
"Easy, Woody Woodpecker," he says. Will feels a rush of affection
for the dog, and crouches in front of him, tugs the dog's ears
roughly. Woody is large, but his ears look like they belong on a dog
half his size. Considering the circumstances of Will's acquiring him,
the dog has been a good sport about the whole thing. "You and me,
Woody," Will says, taking the leash down from the nail next to the
front door. The dog scrambles up, tail wagging, but with a cringing,
uncertain quality to his excitement, squirming and bowing.
When the dog lived with Dinah Maloney in that dimly recalled
paradise called Philadelphia, his life was markedly different. He had
his own feather-filled bed on the floor and spent the coldest nights
sleeping in his mistress's bed. Food was plentiful and there were
frequent surprises—especially when she came home from work with
shopping bags full of leftovers from whatever party she had catered.
The inchoate memories the dog holds of the food, and the woman
and the smells of the old house, live within him as bewilderment,
but his heart and mind have now re-formed around the loss, just as
he would compensate for an injured paw by changing his gait.
Will goes back to the window. It sometimes seems that he has
been peeking out of windows his whole life, always afraid that
someone or something was going to do a lot of harm to him, but
everything that has led up to these past few months has been like a
puppet show. The old fear was like an afternoon nap compared to
what he feels now.
He yanks the cord to raise the blinds and they crookedly cooperate.
He puts his hand to the glass. Cool November afternoon, gray
as old bathwater. He misses the California sun and wishes he had
soaked up more of it. Oh well. Best not to think of it. Self-pity dulls
the senses.
Yet he does not consider it self-pity to bear in mind that even
in his nearly invisible state, he is a target. What tempts him toward
the siren song of self-pity is that it is not his fault. Back home in LA,
he had a run of bad luck that turned into very bad luck that made a
quantum leap to horrendous luck—a last second shot from a third
string forward, undrafted out of college, a heave from the mid-court
line that clanged off the back of the rim, popped straight up in the
air, and dropped down through the hoop, barely ruffling the net.
There was nothing at stake in the late-season game, excepting, of course,
the five thousand dollars Will placed on the Portland Trailblazers to beat the Clippers, an aggressive bet on his part, but when he got the morning line and saw the Clippers weren't
even being given points, it seemed he was being offered a license to print money.
He would have bet more, if he could have, but he was already into his guy for
three thousand dollars and five more was all the credit he could get.
Not having bet more than 5K was the needle of good fortune he could find in
the haystack of bad luck.
But this is what he knows: it all happens for a reason.
The thing is, he was a good gambler. He was sensible, cool
headed, and his bets were based on reality, not blue sky—even the
bet on the Portland Trailblazers was smart, and he is sure that a
lot of people who knew the game, were real students of the NBA,
would have said it was a good bet. You can make a smart bet that
doesn't pay off . Some clown heaving up a shot from half-court, some
once-in-a-lifetime buzzer-beater? These things occur outside the arc
of probability. It was still a good bet.
Except he couldn't pay it off . The man through whom Will
used to place his bets was an old surfer, a Hawaiian named Tommy
Butler. Will never quite got it how Butler figured into the scheme
of things, if he was high up or peripheral to the organization, or
if there even was an organization. When Butler told him Accounts
Receivable was going to have to get involved—"This is automatic,
man, when you get to a certain size debt and more than five days
pass, it's not personal"—Will had no idea who was now in charge of
collecting the money. That's what made it so agonizing—it could be
anyone! Every car door, every footstep, every ring of the phone: it
was a matter of anyone turning into everyone.
Someone is going to come looking for him, but Will doesn't
know who. Someone is somewhere or will be sometime soon. So
much mystery. But it all happens for a reason. Every detour, every
zigzag, every stinking night in a shit-box motel, even this brown
mutt—it's all adding up to something. He just doesn't know what,
not yet. The trick is to still be around when the game is revealed.
Hiding out and lying low are not unnatural acts for Will. He
doesn't need the creature comforts so important to others—the
favorite robe, the favorite coffee cup, the favorite chair. What do
things like that mean in comparison to survival? Survival is the
main course, everything else is carrots and peas. As for hiding—it
heightens the senses, like double overtime, or a photo finish.
Three weeks into his escape he had called Madeline, who was still
living in his old apartment on Ventura, even though she had her
own place. He was in Denver. It was about ten o'clock at night; he
was using the phone booth next to a convenience store, two blocks
from the motel where he was week by week. Two teenagers were
playing a game, tossing a Rockies hat back and forth and trying to
get it to land on the other guy's head. It was a thick, murky night,
no moon, no stars, the sky just a bucket of black paint someone
accidentally kicked over.
"Hey, it's me," he said, as soon as she picked up. He didn't want
to use his name.
"My God, where are you?" Madeline had a low, beautiful voice; it
used to make him feel pretty good just to hear it.
"Never mind that, I'm just letting you know."
"But where are you, I've been going crazy. How could you just
do this?"
"I'm sorry. It was not exactly a planned thing."
"Okay, baby," she said. "I hear you. Okay. Just tell me where you
are. Tell me exactly where you are."
It was then that it hit him—she was in on it, a part of it.
"Things cool there?" he asked her.
"Do you have any idea how this feels? Has anyone ever done
something like this to you? Three weeks and you don't even call?"
"Well, I'm calling, but I gotta go."
"You gotta go where? This is nuts. Why don't you tell me what's
going on? Where are you?"
Will felt his heart harden and shrink to walnut size. This call
was a horrible mistake, but not for the reasons he had worried
about. He would like to have carried fond memories of Madeline,
but there she was, putting snakes in his garden. Who knew? Maybe
they offered her a piece of whatever they got out of him.
"You know what?" she said. "Now I really need you to listen to
this, baby, okay? Will you at least try and listen?" He had never heard
her voice quite like that, like he was her kid and she was going to try
to explain life to him.
"Go ahead," he said, daring her.
"Baby, this thing you're going through," she said. "It's all in your
head. I know you took some losses and I know you've got debts and
I'm pretty sure they're serious debts. But it's all gotten into your
mind. You're really not seeing it clearly. I know it's a serious situation,
but it's not all you're making it out to be. You don't need to be
running and hiding like this. What do you think they're going to do
to you? Kill you? How will they ever get their money? Break your
arms and legs? How will you be able to work and make money that
by the way would otherwise be going right into their pocket?"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer Copyright © 2011 by Scott Spencer. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2011

    Dreadful

    This book was given to me by a friend with a rather qualified review: "I don't know. I think I liked it." Yikes. Well, my review is unqualified: do not waste your time.

    The story started out promisingly, and the writing, initially, was beautiful and evocative, which is why I gave it two rather than one star. But it seemed that the author (who've I've not read before and based on this book, won't read again) got through the confrontation in the woods, and then couldn't figure out how to proceed with the story. Plot points became pointless: Y2K? Really? How outdated! Had the protagonist been a 20th century guy struggling to find his way in the new millenium, this device would have been almost forgivable. But he is drawn as more of a 19th century man, a wannabe Thoreau. In the main, most of the characters are shallowly sketched out and many minor characters are given their own sections and then are never seen again. Did I really need to know anything about the landlord or the woman who was afraid of dogs? They moved the story forward not at all, their presence just underscoring the confusion of ideas and lack of substance in the book. It's almost laughable when one incredibly annoying character appears to spiral into psychosis, but her troubles are dismissed with "oh, she just needs less sugar and fewer additives in her food." WHAT?

    I stuck with the story to the bitter end, hoping that the triteness and banality that plagued it would somehow be redeemed. But no. And as the story wandered off into the ridiculous, the writing went with it, becoming forced and completely undermining the earlier beauty of the prose. If you want to read this story written well, try Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment instead.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    Mixed Bag from Talented Author

    "Man in the Woods" is extremely well written and interesting for the first 2/3 of the book, only to diminish one's anticipation with a final portion that seems pointless and hopeless. For some perverse reason the author is intent on fixating on his characters' human frailties and not the "higher" qualities they seem to be nurturing in the earlier stages of the book. The reader's desire for redemption and forgiveness in the characters that seems to be a driving force of the plot ultimately dissolves into seemingly random scenes of coincidental disappointment. I could not fathom what point the author was making, if any. Perhaps it was a commentary on the inability of humans to find ultimate meaning in their lives when cruel "fate" stands in the way, but I hardly needed another book about that! I wish I could recommend this book, but unfortunately I came away feeling let down.

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  • Posted January 22, 2011

    Made Me Want To Read It Again, Immediately!

    Didn't quite know what to expect with this book. I had never read anything by Scott Spencer. I read a review of "Man In The Woods" and it piqued my interest enough to buy it. I started it one day, and couldn't really get into it. Then I was on a ten-hour plane ride from Frankfurt to Denver and I settled in and gave it another shot. By the end of the third chapter I was completely hooked. This book is like cocaine. You do a little, and you almost immediately want more. I could not put it down.

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  • Posted October 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Had He Only Stayed In The Woods

    Man in the Woods is a well-written novel that holds your interest on many subjects, raises interesting questions, poses dilemmas, but finally falls apart under its own inability to lead the reader to any meaningful conclusion. The exact moment when the novel declines is when the character Annabelle and her husband Bernard move to the East coast. their presence only detracts from what the author has accomplished to that point. The mystifying behavior of the daughter Ruby also begins about that time, and it is more psychedelic than anything else in the novel, and simply doesn't fit. What I wanted to see was what would happen had the Man in the Woods been left where he was, and how Paul would have lived his life with this secret.

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    Fascinating and Gripping

    Man in the Woods engulfed me completely, and is definitely on my Top 5 List. I'm reluctant to say Why because part of the book's many pleasures is its twisting, turning story. The mystery here is the mystery of real life, when you wonder if what we do has any meaning and whether things happen for a reason. The writing is very cool and controlled, and the characters are real. I was worried when I realized there was going to be a dog in the story but the dog was actually pretty interesting.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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