By Scott Spencer
320 pages; Ecco
Paul Phillips is almost too good to be true. A handsome man's man, and a carpenter by profession, he spends his days building beautiful things with his hands, and his evenings cooking dinner for his recently on-the-wagon girlfriend, Kate, after she comes home from a hard day of promoting her inspirational best-seller, Prays Well with Others. He even does the dishes and puts her daughter, Ruby, to bed. And though "Kate is the oldest woman with whom Paul has ever been intimate," he likes it that way: "Being with Kate makes Paul feel pleasantly and proudly older, as though he has at last taken his place in the world of men." But in Scott Spencer's dramatic novel Man in the Woods, our hero's goodness is his undoing. On a drive from New York City to the upstate town where Paul and Kate share a lovingly restored 18th-century farmhouse, he stops for a quiet moment and stumbles on a stranger abusing his dog. Words escalate to blows, and in a nightmarish split second Paul becomes a murderer.
In previous books—notably, Endless Love and A Ship Made of Paper, which also featured Kate and Ruby—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. If a man is smart and meticulous, he may be able to outwit the police and fool society. But if he's decent and deeply moral, outrunning his own conscience could be another matter.