The Understory is a slight novel, merely a little over 140 pages. But don't let that deter you; it's also one of the finest novels I've read in a long, long time.
The narrator - Jack Gorse -- is a damaged man, who once had a promising future as the only son of an affluent theater couple and, in his own right, an up-and-coming lawyer. Today he lives alone, illegally, in a soon-to-be-demolished apartment building without heat or creature comforts. The only thing that keeps him going is his structure and routines and his walks through Central Park. Likely an obsessive-compulsive, he becomes nonplussed when anything interrupts his simple life.
And soon, something does, when he meets up with an architect named Patrick, who brings to the surface a lot of confused feelings he is ill-equipped to deal with.
So what is an understory? As Jack reflects on one of his walks: "I like bare as well as lush, probably better. What speaks to me most is close to the ground: the shrubs and vines, rather than the great elms, oaks, and maples. The understory, as botanists call it...It is the shrubs that allow the park to survive."
Jack's story is the understory of New York; he is one of the easily discountable individuals who, with his bare life, is akin to the shrubs and vines that allow the rest of the city to move on. He is overlooked and under-appreciated and is only interested in living, not thriving. In many ways, he is "at one" with nature.
From the start, the reader feels the vibrations of a life that is increasingly becoming destabilized. The plotting is almost inevitable, and flows organically from that premise. The narration is pitch-perfect and Ms. Erens manages to navigate that difficult task of building sympathy and compassion for someone who, through his actions and his confusion, may not be all that likeable. This is a wonderful novel without a word or a scene that's misplaced. Read it!
- Paperback: 143 pages
- Publisher: Ironweed Pr Inc (18 October 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1931336040
- ISBN-13: 978-1931336048
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.3 x 19.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 181 g
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