James is my second favorite writer, after Proust, of course. “The Beast in the Jungle” is probably his most masterful tale—novella or short story, you decide—and it’s one that I’ve read at least twenty times. While many of my readings have been colored by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s now canonical essay “The Beast in the Closet,” this time around I read James’s tale from an entirely new perspective.And to me that’s the most marvelous thing about writers like James: one never encounters the same text; one always finds new entry points, threads, and cadences that were lost on the first (or tenth) reading. James’s work is always lucid and at the same time ambiguous, tapping into the ebb and flow of our psychological mindsets; I suppose it’s no wonder that our own psychological states while reading would blind us to the many other complex ideas and structures with which James is working with such laudable skill.“The Beast in the Jungle” is the tale of John Marcher, a narrative that pits existential and phenomenological questions of being against the ineluctable nature of language, speech, and what is unnameable. While Marcher is sure that something monstrous is going to happen to him, thus remaining hypervigilant through his entire life in wait for what he calls the beast, James is quick to show how the underlying narcissism that pervades our suffering—and which can blind us to the suffering of others—still courts a desire to be understood, acknowledged, and ultimately known. The analytic relationship between Marcher and May Bartram is one of the most beguiling and yet touching of these sorts of relationships in James’s fiction, perhaps because the sense of intimacy and the threat of the beast are interwoven in a way that causes the textual rhythm to literally pulsate at times (e.g., see the famous ending lines).If you are a writer and you’ve never read this, I honestly have no idea what sort of company you’ve been keeping. Not only is “The Beast in the Jungle” one of the very best examples of the short story, but it is also an investigation into the same representational inquiries with which we all deal when trying to nail down words for things that are simply unnameable. And if you’re a reader who has never read this: what on earth are you waiting for?