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Caribou Island: A Novel
     

Caribou Island: A Novel

3.1 40
by David Vann
 

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The prize-winning author of Legend of a Suicide delivers his highly anticipated debut novel.

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unraveling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together.

Overview

The prize-winning author of Legend of a Suicide delivers his highly anticipated debut novel.

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unraveling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary's old dream, they're hauling logs to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to build the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place.

But this island is not right for Irene. They are building without plans or advice, and when winter comes early, the overwhelming isolation of the prehistoric wilderness threatens their bond to the core. Caught in the emotional maelstrom is their adult daughter, Rhoda, who is wrestling with the hopes and disap-pointments of her own life. Devoted to her parents, she watches helplessly as they drift further apart.

Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest, Caribou Island captures the drama and pathos of a husband and wife whose bitter love, failed dreams, and tragic past push them to the edge of destruction. A portrait of desolation, violence, and the darkness of the soul, it is an explosive and unforgettable novel from a writer of limitless possibility.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
People haunted by their own failures and lost dreams drive Vann's earnest but uneven first novel, which opens with Irene, an ailing middle-aged Alaskan woman, telling her grown daughter, Rhoda, about coming home and finding her mother "hanging from the rafters" one day when she was 10 years old. Irene also tells Rhoda that she believes her husband, Gary, wants to leave her. Gary, "a champion of regret," wanted to be an academic, but ekes out a living fishing and building boats while planning a self-imposed exile with Irene on an island in Alaska's Skilak Lake, where he's building a crude log cabin. Rhoda envisions marital bliss with her boyfriend, Jim, a philandering, selfish dentist. Their internal monologues rage with ideas and desires that read like authorial conceits, not the thoughts of real people. The only true character is Alaska itself, and Vann, author of the story collection Legend of a Suicide, is at his best depicting the harsh, rugged landscape of the Alaskan wilderness. (Jan.)
Kevin Canty
Caribou Island gets to places other novels can’t touch. . . . Though it wears the clothes of realism—the beautiful exactness of the language, the unerring eye for detail—it takes us someplace darker, older, more powerful than the daylit world.”
People
“Vann’s beautiful, spare portrait of a marriage’s end casts a singular spell.”
Alan Cheuse
Caribou Island builds to an horrific climax and stands as an engrossing and disturbing work of art.”
Wayne Harrison
Legend earned him the acclaim of being one of the best writers of his generation. His first novel is a worthy successor. . . . Caribou Island gives us a climax as haunting and realized as any in recent fiction.”
Caitlin Roper
“Moving, powerful . . . Vann’s people are hurtling irretrievably toward a dark outcome, and while putting the book down might save you from it, you can’t stop reading, just as you can’t unlearn its truths.”
Kevin Grauke
“Vann forces us to watch, to pay attention. He refuses to provide his characters—or us—with an easy, happy resolution. Instead, he gives us something much more valuable: an unflinching portrait of what can happen to lives when hopes and ambitions wander off, get lost, and surrender to the merciless cold.”
Robin Vidimos
“Both [Caribou Island and Legend of a Suicide] are intense tragedies set against an unforgiving landscape. Both are delivered in clear, lyric prose. . . . Vann isn’t delivering happy endings, but he is delivering life in crystalline, unforgettable prose.”
Karen R. Long
“Vann is a poet of the animal swings between men and women struggling for the upper hand.”
New Yorker
“Compelling. As the plot moves toward a gruesome finale, the reader is submerged in ‘slow waves of pressure, water compacting but no edge to it.’”
Sheerly Avni
“[Vann] has come fully into his own voice, from the striking opening scene to the fateful final sentence.... An oddly exhilarating horror story in which human demons spring from the smoke of their own disappointment and regret. Caribou Island earns Vann a seat beside the masters. A+”
Toby Lichtig
“Transfixing and unflinching. . . . Full of finely realized moments. . . . Comparison with Cormac McCarthy is fully justified.”
Outside Magazine
“Greatness has arrived: Caribou Island is a powerful first novel of love, lust, and regret set on an island near Soldotna, a fishing town on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.... Vann slowly and quietly builds the drama toward an emotional gut-punch of an ending—think Cormac McCarthy on ice.”
The Economist
“[Vann uses] American landscape as a metaphor to tremendous effect. . . . Vann’s brilliance as a writer lies in his willingness to expose everything. . . . A writer to read and reread; a man to watch carefully.”
Don McLeese
“An existential page-turner and literary breakthrough. . . . The novel’s primal power, moral depth, and narrative command show the author making a big leap.”
Bret Anthony Johnston
“A taut and riveting study of isolation, insanity, and violence.”
Olivia Laing
“The reader’s awareness of real deaths, real griefs, gives his work something of the lethal intensity of handling an unsheathed knife: at times the power is exhilarating, and at other times it cuts bloodily and to the quick.”
Jake Kerridge
“Bleak, beautifully written and bitterly funny. . . . What really distinguishes Vann’s work is his feel for his wintry setting. . . . But he is, oddly, just as memorable when describing a soul-crushing afternoon at the local fish cannery.”
Ian Sansom
“Compared to Caribou Island, The Road is grim-lit lite. . . . Welcome to Vann’s demon land.”
Ian Crouch
“Reaffirms Vann as a talented conjurer of the natural world, and of our nakedness in the face of its power and cruel impassivity.”
Melanie McGrath
Caribou Island is a beautiful, richly atmospheric if unsettling novel, and deserves to consolidate Vann’s position among America’s literary high flyers.”
Tyrone Beason
“Beautifully gloomy….Compelling….[Caribou Island] triumphs in its juxtaposition of claustrophobia-inducing relationships against the forbidding vastness of our 49th state….Vann uses chiseled phrases and verb-less declarations to evoke the natural ruggedness of the setting as well as the character’s emotional distress.”
Doug Johnstone
“As bleak as an Alaskan winter, but it also wields an unforgiving, elemental power that is breathtaking to read.”
Lee Randall
“Vann summons an atmosphere of terrestrial and emotional permafrost so intense that it’ll freeze your bones.”
Mike Dunham
“Arguably the first literary masterpiece to take place on the Kenai Peninsula. . . . Like a macabre machine, the narrative ratchets ever tighter until the closing image of one final, forlorn hope that will be smashed as soon as the story-telling stops and the reader closes the book.”
Patrick Condon
“Vann keeps the pages turning with the skill of the best mystery novelists.”
Robert Olen Butler
“It’s rare when a fiction writer of extraordinary literary merit is equally brilliant in both the short story and novel forms. David Vann is a dazzling exception….Vann knows the darkness but he writes from the compassionate light of art. This is an essential book.”
Ron Rash
“In this exceptional first novel by the celebrated author of Legend of a Suicide, an oncoming Alaska winter becomes metaphor as a troubled marriage moves implacably toward a bleak reckoning. Caribou Island is an unflinching portrait of bad faith and bad dreams.”
The Daily Post (New Zealand)
“Expect to have to stop and think now and then as answers may be hard to find, but the questions are everywhere. Read it and be prepared to expand your mind.”
Library Journal
Vann, author of the prize-winning story collection Legend of a Suicide, turns in an impressive debut novel that examines an odd mix of people near Skilak Lake, AK. Irene and Gary have not been compatible for decades, yet they are building a log cabin on deserted Caribou Island. Gary is no carpenter, so the cabin evolves into a primitive, lopsided structure, just one of his many failed ventures during their married life. Irene and Gary's daughter, Rhoda, lives on the mainland, longs for a home and husband, and doesn't know that her dentist boyfriend has a spoiled, demanding girlfriend on the side. Rhoda's brother, Mark, works on the fishing boat Slippery Jay but has no strong purpose in life. Frantic with worry about her parents, isolated on the island, Rhoda sets out across the lake before the first snowfall. On the way, she vows to put a stop to her parents' foolishness, bring them home, and marry Jim. It will be a new beginning. Sadly, Irene has already made a decision that will change their lives forever. VERDICT Vann delivers an authentic story, even lyrical at times. He is a writer headed for notable accomplishments. Enthusiastically recommended.—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews

A bleak Alaska serves as backdrop for this unforgiving glimpse into the many miseries that shape a marriage.

The novel opens with Irene sharing a rarely visited childhood memory: the day she came home to find her mother swinging from the rafters. The spare foreboding of the scene shapes Vann's taut tale of a misbegotten marriage. Decades of resentment, of small acts of unkindness, of a too-isolated life in Alaska, have brought Irene and Gary to this point of reckoning. Disillusioned with their conventional life and comfortable house in the woods, Gary has bought land on the unpopulated Caribou Island. He wants to build a cabin by hand, without plans or expertise, but with just dreams of an alternate life of self-sufficiency to guide him. He tells Irene the cabin (one room, one bed, no plumbing) is for the two of them, that they will spend the winter there alone, and be happy. But Irene isn't fooled—she can only agree to help with the cabin; if she refuses, she's sure he'll leave her. After the first disastrous trip to bring supplies to the island (a brutal storm, a required stoicism), Irene comes down with a headache that grinds her down for weeks. As the marriage disintegrates (made visible in the form of the ramshackle cabin Gary's building—gaps between the logs, untrue angles, a doorframe angrily nailed on to the outside), their daughter Rhoda finally gets all she has wanted, a marriage proposal from dentist Jim. But while Rhoda fantasizes about a wedding in Hawaii, Jim has been wining and dining and screwing an East Coast trust-fund baby road-tripping in Alaska. Vann's brilliance lies in is his willingness to expose all—the nasty feelings Gary and Irene harbor for each other, those conversations filled with the kind of cold fury that seem to feed bad marriages. The novel's end—desolate, violent, heartbreaking—is as inevitable as Rhoda's own blind plunge into a doomed marriage.

A striking novel filled with the violence borne of a bitter life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061875724
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/18/2011
Pages:
293
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are Saying About This

Jake Kerridge
“Bleak, beautifully written and bitterly funny. . . . What really distinguishes Vann’s work is his feel for his wintry setting. . . . But he is, oddly, just as memorable when describing a soul-crushing afternoon at the local fish cannery.”
Toby Lichtig
“Transfixing and unflinching. . . . Full of finely realized moments. . . . Comparison with Cormac McCarthy is fully justified.”
Doug Johnstone
“As bleak as an Alaskan winter, but it also wields an unforgiving, elemental power that is breathtaking to read.”
Patrick Condon
“Vann keeps the pages turning with the skill of the best mystery novelists.”
Robert Olen Butler
“It’s rare when a fiction writer of extraordinary literary merit is equally brilliant in both the short story and novel forms. David Vann is a dazzling exception….Vann knows the darkness but he writes from the compassionate light of art. This is an essential book.”
Mike Dunham
“Arguably the first literary masterpiece to take place on the Kenai Peninsula. . . . Like a macabre machine, the narrative ratchets ever tighter until the closing image of one final, forlorn hope that will be smashed as soon as the story-telling stops and the reader closes the book.”
Kevin Canty
Caribou Island gets to places other novels can’t touch. . . . Though it wears the clothes of realism—the beautiful exactness of the language, the unerring eye for detail—it takes us someplace darker, older, more powerful than the daylit world.”
Alan Cheuse
Caribou Island builds to an horrific climax and stands as an engrossing and disturbing work of art.”
Tyrone Beason
“Beautifully gloomy….Compelling….[Caribou Island] triumphs in its juxtaposition of claustrophobia-inducing relationships against the forbidding vastness of our 49th state….Vann uses chiseled phrases and verb-less declarations to evoke the natural ruggedness of the setting as well as the character’s emotional distress.”
Robin Vidimos
“Both [Caribou Island and Legend of a Suicide] are intense tragedies set against an unforgiving landscape. Both are delivered in clear, lyric prose. . . . Vann isn’t delivering happy endings, but he is delivering life in crystalline, unforgettable prose.”
Melanie McGrath
Caribou Island is a beautiful, richly atmospheric if unsettling novel, and deserves to consolidate Vann’s position among America’s literary high flyers.”
Lee Randall
“Vann summons an atmosphere of terrestrial and emotional permafrost so intense that it’ll freeze your bones.”
Don McLeese
“An existential page-turner and literary breakthrough. . . . The novel’s primal power, moral depth, and narrative command show the author making a big leap.”
Bret Anthony Johnston
“A taut and riveting study of isolation, insanity, and violence.”
Kevin Grauke
“Vann forces us to watch, to pay attention. He refuses to provide his characters—or us—with an easy, happy resolution. Instead, he gives us something much more valuable: an unflinching portrait of what can happen to lives when hopes and ambitions wander off, get lost, and surrender to the merciless cold.”
Olivia Laing
“The reader’s awareness of real deaths, real griefs, gives his work something of the lethal intensity of handling an unsheathed knife: at times the power is exhilarating, and at other times it cuts bloodily and to the quick.”
Ian Crouch
“Reaffirms Vann as a talented conjurer of the natural world, and of our nakedness in the face of its power and cruel impassivity.”
Wayne Harrison
Legend earned him the acclaim of being one of the best writers of his generation. His first novel is a worthy successor. . . . Caribou Island gives us a climax as haunting and realized as any in recent fiction.”
Karen R. Long
“Vann is a poet of the animal swings between men and women struggling for the upper hand.”
Ian Sansom
“Compared to Caribou Island, The Road is grim-lit lite. . . . Welcome to Vann’s demon land.”
Caitlin Roper
“Moving, powerful . . . Vann’s people are hurtling irretrievably toward a dark outcome, and while putting the book down might save you from it, you can’t stop reading, just as you can’t unlearn its truths.”
Ron Rash
“In this exceptional first novel by the celebrated author of Legend of a Suicide, an oncoming Alaska winter becomes metaphor as a troubled marriage moves implacably toward a bleak reckoning. Caribou Island is an unflinching portrait of bad faith and bad dreams.”

Meet the Author

Published in twenty languages, David Vann's internationally bestselling books have won fifteen prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain, and have appeared on seventy-five Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He's written for the New York Times, Atlantic, Esquire, Outside, Sunset, Men's Journal, McSweeney's, and many other publications, and he has been a Guggenheim, Stegner, and NEA fellow.

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Caribou Island 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
mmcandy More than 1 year ago
Not only was this book not worth reading...which coming from a reading teacher is hard to say! There were multiple errors in punctuation, missing page numbers and in several spots, it felt like pages were missing as the story did not flow... specifically the ending
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a dark, unhappy story. I can see why so many people did not like it. It definitely is all about the darker emotions of humans. It showcases the loneliness, fear, and desperation that exists in people, and how it affects their relationships. The long descriptive narratives of the landscape of Alaska added to the feel of the book. It's hard to say I enjoyed the story due to the bleakness of the characters lives. However, I was completely caught up in wondering how it was going to turn out. I could feel the characters emotions, and was hoping desparately for life to improve for them the entire time. Plus, I have been thinking about it a lot since I finished. For these reasons, I give the story 5 stars. The author did not use quotation marks when people were speaking. Due to the fact he was often describing the thoughts in the characters heads, while in the same paragraph they would speak to another character, it often was confusing as to whether they were thinking or speaking, which I found somewhat annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't waste yiur time with this one! I have to say this has got to be one of the worst books I've ever read. I usually stop after a few chapters if I am not liking a book, but i had such high hopes that this one would get better, but it never did. It just got worse. After finishing it I was in the weirdest mood for a few days and it turned me off from reafing for two months (not good, considering I had just joined a book club). The one good thing- I borrowed it from the library so at least I didn't have to pay for it!
Falcon61 More than 1 year ago
The only reason I kept reading was in hopes of a better ending. I know all endings don't end happy however this one just left me feeling what happened to the other characters. Did any of the others work things out, truth finding some meaning in their lives, that life is worth living. This book also made me feel like most of what any of us do or did is fruitless. If you want to challenge yourself that you can read this without feeling low or angry at the characters go for it.
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TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
Gary and Irene have been married for 30 years. Their marriage is falling apart but they are held together by a very thin thread. When Gary decides to build a log home on the small island of Caribou, located on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, Irene sees it for what it is. Their last chance to make the marriage work, or a sign that it will never work and that they have failed miserably. What takes Gary sometime to realize, Irene has already realized and partially accepted. While they are trying to put this cabin together, Gary and Irene's grown daughter, Rhonda has problems of her own. She is dating Jim, a dentist. He's well-off, successful and safe. But Jim has his own secrets. As Rhonda ponders what is going on with her parents, she can't help but think about her own relationship. These are troubled times. This is not a happy story. There are no happy people here. In fact, what you have are miserable characters who are wrought with loneliness. So lonely, that being together is better than being apart and trust me, these people should be apart. As depressing as this all sounds, and it does get rather depressing here and there, the story is very compelling. Vann's writing is lovely and sad and brutally honest. It's scratchy and raw and there were times when I was uncomfortable reading, but only because Gary and Irene's story seemed so real. You know how it is when you are with a couple who is fighting? How you try to ignore the tension yet it's impossible to do so? That's how it was for me reading this book. The tension is everywhere, yet I couldn't put it down. Halfway through the story, I knew where the story was heading, but in no way did it prepare me for what actually happened. I reached that last page and the air was sucked right out of me. I had read Vann's Legend of a Suicide and had a similar feeling when I finished that one but these characters seemed more real.as if they could be people I know. That made it more personal to me and what marriage hasn't seen trouble every now and then? The images that Vann created are still floating around in my head today. Caribou Island is a moving account of a marriage gone wrong and although it's bleak, it's very thought-provoking and Vann does wonderful things with the setting. You don't enjoy a story like this, but you experience it and appreciate it on a different level. Vann is a very talented writer and at this point, I'd read anything by him.
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NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what it is. But when a book is written without quotation marks around the dialogue, it just seems to make an already sad and depressing book even more so. Now in their fifties, Gary and Irene have come to the conclusion that the unhappiness in life is totally the other person's fault, not their own. After thirty years of marriage and living in Alaska, Gary now has an obsession to build a one room cabin on Caribou Island, and Irene is supposed to help. No matter what, he will finish this cabin, even though Irene's truthful complaints of pulse-pounding headaches causing her to rest for hours at a time, have them visiting doctors to uncover a medical reason. Constant rain seems to pelt on them throughout the book as they work on the cabin, with arguments and deep despair building within them as each internally review the way their lives have turned out. And their children. Mark is the son who feels fulfilled (at least on the surface) to live by day as a fisherman in Alaska, and by night completely high on drugs. Rhoda is the daughter who is missing something in her life, and could perhaps be doomed to repeat her mother's mistakes. Living with Jim, a dentist, Rhoda doesn't know that Jim is just now realizing that if he does things right, he can probably get away with adultery for the rest of his life. Here's what's brilliant and realistic about this book: Although each character is disappointed, they also feel a closeness to the person they blame. They don't strictly hate each other, to a certain extent - while at one moment Gary may be ready to leave Irene forever, he still will lay down on the bed with her and hold her lovingly. There is a tenderness even though each of them are wondering if it's too late to make their life different. This is not a book to cheer you up. Effortlessly written, page after page sharing genuine insight into a life shaped with regret and "what if," David Vann builds an eerily quiet novel to shocking, and yet silent, conclusions. A quick read, it is disturbing, authentic, and frighteningly brilliant. Read this when you don't mind feeling a little sad and wondering if you'll be able to correct any bad choices you've made in life...
RobertaMay More than 1 year ago
Worst story! Not worth the time I spent reading and waiting for it to get better, or at least to find any kind of reason for this book! Sorry I purchased it!
Maureeb Clarke More than 1 year ago
So disappointed in this book! Not only was the story awful but a first grader could write with better grammar!
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BarnesNobleFan More than 1 year ago
A raw, gritty tale of individuals unable to possess their emotions or their lives, rendering a vacuum of dysfunction that threatens all involved. A powerful read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago