Nicole Krauss opens her challenging and illuminating fourth novel, Forest Dark, with a disappearance. Jules Epstein, a wealthy, elderly Manhattanite, returns to his birth city of Tel Aviv on a mysterious mission—and vanishes without a trace. In a parallel storyline, a novelist and mother of two named Nicole travels to Tel Aviv, hoping to disappear into fiction. At home in Brooklyn, she’s in a creative slump and a foundering marriage, and thinks a change of scene might turn things around.
Readers can be forgiven for wondering how much of the fictional Nicole’s storyline is based on Krauss’ own relationship with former husband (and fellow writer) Jonathan Safran Foer, with whom she has two children. But it isn’t long before the absorbing fictional world Krauss has created drowns out any literary gossip. Both Epstein and Nicole encounter enigmatic strangers who seduce them with stories: Epstein discovers he might have ties to the biblical King David, while Nicole is given a suitcase that is said to contain lost manuscripts of Franz Kafka. These revelations place both characters on surprising trajectories.
Though the story at times might feel meandering, Krauss is always in control. The myriad literary allusions and her ruminations on the nature of story and on boundaries of all sorts—including those of reality—deepen the journeys of her two main characters. Like Krauss’ previous books Great House and The History of Love, Forest Dark slowly builds to a powerful emotional crescendo and an ending that feels revelatory.
Haunting and reflective, poetic and wise, this is another masterful work from one of America’s best writers.