This is actually a pretty scary read. It's long—449 pages—and it's waterlogged on occasion from too much dietrius to wade through. I'd suggest you don't peer too deep into its murky depths, and don't read the last 150 pages late at night, especially after viewing the film Saving Private Ryan(1), that's for sure(2).
The Prologue is backstory for the pivotal plot point. That's easy to figure; it just doesn't play for much. When the real meat starts, Dan--the younger, whiney brother who's locked in a trunk by his older, meaner brother during a game of hide and seek--is presently a Art History professor heading a special program teaching students how to restore Old Masters. He's married to Linda and they have two kids and a dog, respectively named Tommy (9-yrs old), Jessica (6-yrs old), Ginger (a shiz-shu). They live in Alder Glen which is probably Palo Alto in disguise.
Then there's Mr. Glass. He presumeably represents the orphanage-raised, boyhood scars from the Prologue action, imagined as a shard of glass lodged in Dan's head. He calls it his "migraine machine"(p.17), and it will surface throughout the read as unbending pain, a naysaying chimeral companion, the cipher in decipher.
Two things arrive that flip Dan like a bug upsidedown under a magnifier. A student who he's been having an affair with shows up and he heralds "her return like a frantic Geiger counter"(p.33), since he had sent her away to Italy for a year's seminar in hands-on restoration work, which was to have the effect of ending the liaison. Karina Calloway is a hot alpha and a determined one. Think of Neve Campbell playing the Glenn Close role in Fatal Attraction(3). But her deranged and destructive character arc has nothing to do with the second delivery.
The 6x5-foot painting comes addressed to Dr. Daniel Rinehart with no indication of its origin or purpose, except a notecard on the back that reads, "here in art, denial"(p.47). Dan acknowledges its proficiency but considers its style "a Frankenstein mix"(p.51). It appears a simple painting from inside a room with a boy and a girl on each side of a middle-framed window looking out onto an ethereal scene, in contrast with the muted, decaying ambience of the room. The painting feels unfinished and is filled with incongruous objects practically glowing with significance like a 15th century Flemish canvas of, say, Jan van Eyck. With obscured clues, the artist has challenged his audience as to its meaning. "Imagine trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces,"(p.52) says Prof. Dan.
Once the roadsigns are in place for the journey, Forsaken spreads out to engender sub-stories, red herrings, jigsaw pieces that fit. Jessica becomes a conduit of sorts; Ginger a sacrifice. Tommy and Linda hold onto their traditional roles as bouys of rationality and genuine concern in this temulchous sea, allowing the diabolical events to appear more odious, unsettling, deadly. Karina self-destructs relativily early, bringing the authorities into the mix, pointing fingers at Dan. The university deans are not happy with him either, especially when the Archive burns, leaving only said painting unharmed. And his family? Well, you can imagine Linda's brain blow when she hears about the affair. By this time, Tommy's gone petulant, but Jessica's pretty much in the painting. Ginger? Ah, there's a paw around somewhere. And Dan is steppin' on his own shoelaces by bringing the painting home. Really lame choice there, dude.
1) Yeah, it's a glitch in the genius known as Spielberg but, come on, it's a cheap carny trick to switch the POV at the end, and, seemingly, for one more tearjerk that alienates with a slap from a hand tattooed "got'cha!" instead of the intended warm, fuzzy hug for the 60 million who died in WWII.