Posts Tagged David Vann
Making lists of my favorite books, music, films proves challenging every year. Thus I’m making a list of 20. To put it in perspective, I’ve read 90 books at this writing. I have a few in progress. Here are the one’s that I keep thinking about and recommending to others [If I reviewed it, I linked to the review]:
1.The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu [Hogarth]
2. The Collective by Don Lee [W.W.Norton]
3. The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields [Pamela Dorman]
4. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz [Riverhead]
5. Dirt by David Vann [Harper]
6. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery [Riverhead]
7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green [Dutton]
8. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud To See by Juliann Garey [Soho]
9. The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus [Knopf]
10. Stay Awake: stories by Dan Chaon [Ballantine/Random House]
[these are listed in the order that I've read them]
The Last Nude by Ellis Avery [Riverhead, 2012]
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margo Livesey [HarperCollins, 2012]
Stay Awake: stories by Dan Chaon [Ballantine/Random House, 2012]
Charlotte au Chocolat: Memories of a Restaurant Girlhood by Charlotte Silver 
Make It Stay by Joan Frank [Permanent Press, 2012]
Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous [Europa, April 2012]
The Lion is In by Delia Ephron [March 2012]
Guts by Kristen Johnston [March 2012]
Threats by Amelia Gray [Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012]
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green [Dutton, 2012]
Dirt by David Vann [Harper, April 2012]
I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern [IT Books, 2012]
Lizz Free or Die by Lizz Winstead [Riverhead Books, 2012]
MISS FULLER by April Bernard [SteerForth Press, 2012]
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian [Doubleday, 2012]
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus [Knopf, 2012]
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz [Riverhead, 2012]
Dirt by David Vann. Publisher: Harper (May 2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 272 pages. 978-0062121035.
In David Vann’s short story collection Legend of a Suicide, the introspection and gloom impressed me. I became an immediate fan. His debut novel Caribou Island gracefully explored many of the same emotions: isolation, regret, settling. The storytelling flows with honesty and grace. His simple writing provides depth, empathy and a glimpse into the thoughts of each character. When I found out Vann wrote a new novel I wanted to immediately read it.
To label Dirt eccentric would be an understatement. It’s Grey Gardens bizarre. It’s 1985. 22-year-old Galen lives with his mother in an unusual world filled with emotional dependency and varying types of abuse. Galen spends his days contemplating New Age philosophy and his taboo attraction to his 17-year-old cousin. His mother makes cucumber sandwiches for tea daily and they visit her mother [and Galen’s grandmother] in a nursing home. Suzie-Q, her daughter, just didn’t want to have her mother interrupt the idyllic existence she’s established with her adult son. Both suffer from varying degree of mental illness—Galen more prone to manic/angry episodes. Galen and Suzie-Q live off a trust fund established by Suzie-Q’s hard-working father but according to her it only allows for subsistence living—no college, no travel, no extravagances.
“It really is that bad. It’s like being no one. You think you’re something now, but it’s only because you can put your memories together. You put them together and you think that makes something. But take away the memories, or even scramble them out of order, and there’s nothing left.”
When Galen and Suzie-Q travel to the family cabin with Aunt Helen and her daughter [the object of Galen’s fantasies] and grandmother, everything crumbles. Helen’s after the money and always has been. Galen gets seduced by his cousin. Suzie-Q can no longer control her son or retain him in the bubble she’s had them living in for years. As Galen and his mother’s fighting escalates beyond reason or control, Vann delves into every psychoanalytical fantasy imaginable.
“It explains everything. It explains the truth about men, the truth that they only care about themselves. And you’re no different.”
While this is a creepy, dark story, Vann writes with a smart, captivating style. Dirt becomes immediately engrossing. I admire Vann’s ability to write about unpleasant/ difficult characters and situations in such a compelling manner. Reflections on the permanence of dirt and explosive power of the sun propel the story to its final tragic denouement. Dirt is disturbing and unnerving but David Vann is a superb storyteller and keeps you flipping pages wondering what atrocities will be uttered and performed.
purchase at Amazon: Dirt: A Novel
I’ve read about 100 books this year. These 20 made particularly lasting impressions.
1. The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaajte [Knopf]
2. Caribou Island by David Vann [Harper]
3. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanha [Greywolf Press]
4. A Stranger on the Planet by Adam Schwartz [Soho Press]
5. The Astral by Kate Christensen [Doubleday]
6. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett [Harper]
7. The Submission by Amy Waldman [F,S&G]
8. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews [Harper]
9. The Rape of the Muse by Michael Stein [The Permanent Press]
10. The Lies Have It by Jill Edmondson [Iguana]
11. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta [St. Martins]
12. My New American Life by Francine Prose [Harper]
13. Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward [Random House]
14. The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl by Marc Schuster [The Permanent Press]
15. The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen [Riverhead]
16. The Ringer by Jenny Shank [The Permanent Press]
17. Slant by Timothy Wang [Tincture]
18. The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen [Crown]
19. The Social Climber’s Handbook by Molly Jong-Fast [Villard]
20. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson [Ecco]
Caribou Island, by David Vann. Publisher: Harper (January 18, 2011). Hardcover. 304 pg.
Alaska, an attraction for both adventurers and loners, is the ideal setting for a novel about crumbling relationships that hide behind happy facades. When I read David Vann’s collection of semi-autobiographical stories, Legend of a Suicide, the introspective darkness of the stories impressed me. Caribou Island explores many of the same emotions: isolation, regret, settling. The storytelling flows with honesty and grace. The simple writing provides depth, empathy and a glimpse into the thoughts of each character.
In the novel, the main focus is on Gary and Irene, a 50-something couple who moved to Alaska three decades ago. They met in California where Gary was completing his PhD dissertation and Irene taught elementary school. Gary convinced Irene to travel to Alaska as an adventure and two adult children later [Rhoda, a planner, and Mark, a carefree guy], the couple still lives in small-town Alaska and now they resent each other. Gary’s goal is to build a cabin on the isolated Caribou Island. Irene’s not so happy about being stranded out there through the winter, completely cut off from her daughter Rhoda and civilization. As a child, Irene found her mother hanging when she arrived home from school. How much does this effect Irene today? She may not have dealt with it completely and as her marriage deteriorates so does her physical and mental health. Only recently did Irene tell her daughter Rhoda about it and the two women have a close mother-daughter relationship. The magic of Caribou Island is that the content can be as sad, cold and unforgiving as Alaska’s weather and as stunning as its landscape.
Vann remains brutally honest about relationships from the beginning. It seems that Gary and Irene settled with each other. Both realize they could have and should have done better. There is much focus on that fact that the men seem to have more options and choices in marriage than the women do. I’m not sure I can agree with that. For instance, Rhoda, Irene and Gary’s daughter, has been living with a successful dentist, Jim, for several years. She’s waiting for him to propose. Recently however, Jim had an affair and now thinks that he can be safe by marrying Rhoda and have affairs on the side. Why marry Rhoda? She cooks his dinner whenever he wants it. Even gets up to get him more to drink. She cleans and just does whatever he wants. Yet if she moved anywhere but this small town in Alaska, Rhoda might have many more options in men.
Both Irene [Gary had seemed so promising. A doctoral student, bright enough to get into Berkeley. She felt tied to him, felt wanted, felt like she belonged.] and Rhoda [What she didn’t understand about Jim was where his filling was. Nice golden crust on the outside. A dentist, with money and respect. When she first told people she was dating him, they were all impressed. His house fit the dream, too. A buttery life.] suffer inferiority complexes in that their partners could have chosen smarter women instead of safe women. Is this due to lack of selection or because the men are faulty specimens? Caribou Island delves deep into these relationships and in doing so explores why we choose to be with whom we end up with long-term and whether we are truly fulfilled and retain our independent spirits.
Title: Legend of a Suicide
Author: David Vann
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (March 16, 2010)
Category: literature/ short stories
Review source: publisher
In this collection of semiautobiographical stories, a son copes with his father’s eventual suicide. David Vann explores dark thoughts and re-imagines events in an introspective, sharp manner. Legend of a Suicide naturally flows with honesty and grace.
His father left him, back into the trees, and Roy took up the ax and chopped and hated his father. He hated this place, too, and listening to his father crying every night.What was he talking about, babies? He felt bad then, because he knew the crying at night was something else, something he was afraid to belittle.