Where does a story begin and end? This question provides the basis for Nicole Krauss’ metaphysical ruminations in her extraordinary novel, Forest Dark. Krauss tilts narrative on its side as she dismisses the comforting reassurance a structured tale can provide. Storylines appear to end abruptly without explanation, while others, initially thought finite and exhaustive, are pursued and elaborated upon with renewed vigour.
Krauss interrogates the validity of the self and presents a vision of the individual as a divided, malleable and omnipresent entity. The novelist in the text, Nicole (presumably the autobiographical one of two alternate narrators) compounds this idea by frequently touching on the theory of the multiverse:
“What if life, which appears to take place down countless long hallways, in waiting rooms and foreign cities, on terraces, in hospitals and gardens, rented rooms and crowded trains, in truth occurs only in one place, a single location from which one dreams of those other places?”
Reality itself seems unstable. Such thoughts represent a continuation of the childhood logic which denounces reality as fixed. Krauss examines the landscape of childhood with careful reverence, placing great significance on the lingering weight of early childhood impressions. The youthful tendency to dismiss reality as a concrete phenomenon is a belief which bleeds into adulthood for her characters. Krauss describes the process of building these realities but later proceeds to outline the instability of superficially stable structures such as marriage and domestic life. Amidst this interior dilapidation, the Tel Aviv Hilton stands as a solid symbol of durability for Krauss’ characters — a Brutalist-style hotel that represents the pinpoint of the multiverse from which the characters look outward. The novel documents the return of Nicole and the other narrator, Jules Epstein — an aging former lawyer from New York — to this Tel Aviv hotel that verges on the mythical.
A longing for something formless is a desire felt by both narrators, but accompanying this desire is a timid articulation of fear of what exactly it may comprise. Such a desire has distinct parallels with elements of Judaic faith and its emphasis on awaiting an ambiguous outcome. Unsurprisingly, religion plays a prominent role in the novel. The plot unfolds against a backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian tension. However, societal conflict and chaos merely serve as subtext to complement the internal chaos felt by the novelist and Epstein, as they individually navigate a course towards inner peace. Their respective religious communities are unwilling to endorse aimless meanderings, and both Nicole and Epstein are set somewhat surreal and Kafkaesque tasks.
Forest Dark is a profoundly compelling meditation on identity and legacy. In accordance with the imagery of forests that permeates the text, the story’s roots clutch the reader in an embrace that necessitates total immersion in Krauss’ world.