In the best of Edna O'Brien's novels, there is a lawless element, a violence, that springs up to satisfy some primal urge: revenge, desire, thwarted love, or even the seemingly contrasting need of a community for balance and order. In the Forest is based on a true story of a local terror, a murderer sprung from the fertile soil of the west Ireland countryside. Michen O'Kane is a loving boy gone bad. His father beat his mother, and his mother died young, leaving 10-year-old Michen to the indifferent care of relatives and teachers. A rich fantasy life and little outside guidance quickly lead to a detention center, where Michen is the prey of bullies, as well as of a kindly priest with an unfortunate use for small boys. But none of these factors fully explains Michen's transformation into a killer. It is one of the strengths of this difficult and beautifully written novel that the lyrical fragments of Michen's tale--told from various points of view--do not completely add up. The dark mysteries of psychosis are left intact. We have only evocative glimpses of Michen's inner world and a crystal-clear image of the ruin he left behind.