Caribou Island: A Novel

Caribou Island: A Novel

3.1 40
by David Vann
     
 

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“Dazzling…. Vann knows the darkness but he writes from the compassionate light of art.  This is an essential book.”  —Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“Exceptional….An unflinching portrait of bad faith and bad dreams.” —Ron Rash, author of

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Overview

“Dazzling…. Vann knows the darkness but he writes from the compassionate light of art.  This is an essential book.”  —Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“Exceptional….An unflinching portrait of bad faith and bad dreams.” —Ron Rash, author of Burning Bright

Set against the backdrop of Alaska’s unforgiving wilderness, Caribou Island is David Vann’s dark and captivating tale of a marriage pulled apart by rage and regret.  With this eagerly anticipated debut novel, a masterful follow-up to his internationally bestselling short fiction anthology, Legend of a Suicide, Vann takes up the mantle of Louise Erdrich, Marilyn Robinson, and Rick Moody, delivering a powerfully wrought, enthrallingly emotional narrative of struggle and isolation.  

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.

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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)

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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