Title: Forest Dark
Author: Nicole Krauss
Rating: 3 / 5
Why I picked it up: I put it on my to-read list because I liked the cover and someone I follow had wanted to read it. I entered a Goodreads giveaway for it, and lo, it arrived in the mail. Bumped to the top of my reading list!
What it’s about: Jewishness. I think. Right? It’s kind of two separate stories. One follows Jules Epstein, patriarch who has been giving all his worldly possessions away lately before mysteriously disappearing in Israel (this is all covered right off the bat, not a spoiler!). The second story is…I think supposed to be kind of autobiographical or something, since it’s about a Jewish author named Nicole. She’s having a hard time writing a novel so she goes to Israel.
What I liked: I liked that the whole book kind of had a dreamlike quality to it. It kind of seems fantastical, almost like magical realism but not quite. You’re not quite sure what is ever going on and if the characters are being put on by the people they meet or not, so it kind of lends this foggy uncertain air of possible unreality to it. Which, well, I dig it. I also really liked her writing. Despite the somewhat low-ish rating (though 3 is still “I liked it”), I would definitely give Krauss another shot because of the way she writes her sentences.
What I didn’t like: The overall execution was, to me, meh. While there were definitely things I thought were interesting, I was often just like “huh.” And not “huh” in a way that’s like “huh…that is really something” but like “well…huh.” She tries to be all meta and maybe a little postmodern here, which is good if you can do it well, but I was, as I say, meh on that. It didn’t feel very cohesive to me, and she gave herself an out here by being meta about writing a novel, but to me it’s just… it’s gotta work. And it didn’t really work so well. And, a lot of the things she ruminates on in the novel, while well written, are just…I don’t want to say “unoriginal” but maybe, you know, been done better before. Only they’re stated in a way like it’s super profound. I don’t know. I feel like I’m being mean. I haven’t really thought about it much since I finished it.
Overall / recommended: I would maybe recommend this, depending on the reader. Like, it’s one of those books where I’d want to know “why do you read?” As I’ve said, I think the writing itself is strong. It’s the story and the characters where it falls apart for me. But, I would definitely give her another shot based on this book. I think it was creative and maybe ambitious and also maybe I didn’t totally understand what she was doing since I’m not Jewish/well versed in Jewish literature/history/cultural touchstones.