Fresh out of an unsatisfying relationship with a younger woman, John Martin, a successful advertising agent living in New York, is suddenly possessed by a strange and irresistible desire to cross the globe to Budapest and strike up a new friendship with his ex-wife, with whom he hasn't spoken in years. Plunged into the mysterious world of Budapest just after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, he falls in love with a waitress while also inadvertently reawakening and expanding intimacy with his ex-wife. He quickly becomes the apex of two conflicting love triangles, but his repeated trips to Budapest only deepen the confusion and longing set off by a series of dreams and random events that he mistakenly takes as his emotional guide.
The Forest is a sumptuous and captivating novel, rich in psychological insights and depth of linguistic expression. Death in Venice for Generation X meets Richard Ford’s Women with Men, The Forest attempts for post-communist Budapest what Hemmingway and Fitzgerald did for Paris in the twenties.
One critic said of The Forest: “The psychology is flawless...all actions and conclusions are born out of the protagonist contemplating the apparently meaningless events in the outside world; he is driven by the impetus of vividly described moments that give the story's psychology an almost Zen feeling. Through the psychological authenticity of the protagonists's thoughts and emotions, I became so much involved with the story that once I got used to the relatively slow pace, I couldn't put the book down and finished it in two long reads.”
John Martin turned his head and caught a glimpse of a black-haired girl who was sitting at a small table beside him at an outdoor café on Andrássy út called Night and Day that seemed to cater to locals on their way back from work in the evening. She was talking with a friend as the traffic rushed down through the Budapest evening and a small flock of gulls carved a small circle overhead. There was a smell like metal or exhaust hanging in the air and the sky had the dull gray glow that came at the end of a hot day. She had long silky black hair and thin red lips with dark eyes that were sensual or aggressive in turns. Beneath her chin was a thin roll of fat, giving her face a soft, almost doll-like appearance. She pulled a small gold chain out of the pocket of her thin white nylon windbreaker and strung it around her wrist. Martin sat at his table playing with a piece of foil wrapping from a cigarette package. There was something about her that drew him in - a certain transparency that opened him up and made him aware of everything about her. It was like he had once knew her, recognizing her eyes - but not her face - from some long-lost event in the murky depths of their mutual past.
He rolled the foil between his fingers, toying with the idea of going up to her to say something. Perhaps she knew English and they could have a harmless conversation about how nice the weather was or if she had ever been or wanted to go to America. But maybe she didn’t, and the act of going up to her would only lead to a clumsy and awkward conversation, which would leave them both feeling silly and inadequate. The locals, or so it seemed since he had arrived here just a day before, had a way of looking at you that made you feel thoughtless and ashamed for so much as attempting to make eye contact with them. So, if he went to talk to her and she gave him an uncomfortable or even nasty look - regardless of its true intention - the beauty of his memory of sitting in the warm night hair watching her would be forever tarnished. Yes. For the time being it was best simply to look at her and admire the way her facial expressions changed as she talked, imagining she was talking about childhood friends or events of the previous evening as he followed the rhythm dictated by her voice and the subtle contractions of her lips and eyelids.
Martin looked down at his watch. It was getting late. He’d already had three glasses of Amstel and was starting to feel tired. His stomach felt heavy and his legs were still stiff from sitting on the airplane eight hours the day before. He pulled out his wallet and there was a loud and piercing shout. He turned his head and looked behind him. A small girl with short hair cropped around her forehead wandered aimlessly across the street in front of a rose garden as if she were enjoying for a moment the simple act of being lost. She had an expression on her face like she was attached to nothing, completely without responsibility or origin. She continued walking in a circle until a tall woman carrying a pink bag came out of a restaurant and yelled something at her. The girl stopped as if an inaudible whistle had just blown. The woman grabbed her hand and escorted her curtly down the street.
Martin stood up and took one last look at the girl at the table. She didn’t seem to notice him as he dropped a five hundred forint note on the table and turned to walk away. He looked at her one last time before doing an about face and continuing down the street. In the spring light Andrássy út looked like a limitless tunnel of leaves gathered around rows of small and unassumingly elegant shops. At the end of the block a police car was parked at the curb. A small fat man with tiny eyes was talking to an officer who was leaning against the car while pointing at a small van across the street. Martin guessed they were arguing about a possible traffic violation and carried on. In an hour it would be dusk and a soft pink mist would fill the air as it had the night before. He knew because a forecast on an English television station in his hotel said that the weather would be the same all week. A deep azure sky all day with only the trace of a light breeze manifesting itself as an occasional cool feeling on the face or palms.