where the writers are
The Understory by Pamela Erens
Date of Review: 
Whitney Scott

Erens' novel, winner of the Ironweed Fiction Prize, grabs and compels you to gaze into the mind, heart and soul of a 40-year-old attorney, and into the understory beneath his actions. Jack hasn't worked for 14 years due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder, and has been living illegally in his deceased uncle's rent-controlled apartment but now faces eviction due to renovation. The prospect of this transition, for one who can only function via slavish repetition, and who fears the vibration of change, is so terrifying, it opens him to-change. Jack is a shy, disheveled, seemingly asexual scholar who haunts secondhand bookstores and libraries. His unkempt appearance might make passers-by look away just as the author's descriptions might make readers wince, so convincingly does she depict his tics and confusion when he finds himself strangely-and gut-wrenchingly-attracted to Patrick, the young architect restoring the building's treasures. Jack's anxieties and disappointments mount, and in a book that begs for stellar acting in a cinematic treatment, the fascinated reader bears witness as events follow a collision course. Scott, Whitney.