Caribou Island [NOOK Book]


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, ...

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Caribou Island

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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. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
…there's no shortage of dreary tales, but Vann isn't writing in that popular school of static despair. Despite the crushing sorrow of Caribou Island, it progresses with tremendous momentum. Inspired by the experience of his stepmother's parents, this story of a family in southern Alaska comes to us in a series of vibrant moments as bracing, invigorating and finally as deadly as the icy water that surrounds these characters.
—The Washington Post
Kevin Canty
…beautifully written…The chapters are brief, inferential, cut short by other chapters and other viewpoints in a lovely start-stop movement that advances the plot quickly. And the writing is a marvel of concision and exactitude throughout…Caribou Island reads as briskly and suggestively as a story sequence…but lingers in the mind with the gravity and heft of a longer narrative. Its interplay of incident and character gives it the feel of a 19th-century novel on the grand scale, only without any particular grandeur: this is a novel made of plywood and plastic sheeting and gravel banks, a world where people make out in the snow on bleachers at the go-kart track.
—The New York Times
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.)
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.’”
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.”
“Vann’s beautiful, spare portrait of a marriage’s end casts a singular spell.”
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.”
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 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.”
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+”
“Vann’s beautiful, spare portrait of a marriage’s end casts a singular spell.”
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 Magazine
"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.”
Toby Lichtig
“Transfixing and unflinching. . . . Full of finely realized moments. . . . Comparison with Cormac McCarthy is fully justified.”
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.”
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: 9780062042330
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/18/2011
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 53,886
  • File size: 686 KB

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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Read an Excerpt

Caribou Island

A Novel
By David Vann

Harper Perennial

Copyright © 2012 David Vann
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061875731

Chapter One

 My mother was not real. She was an early dream, a hope. She
was a place. Snowy, like here, and cold. A wooden house on a
hill above a river. An overcast day, the old white paint of the
buildings made brighter somehow by the trapped light, and I
was coming home from school. Ten years old, walking by myself,
walking through dirty patches of snow in the yard, walking up to
the narrow porch. I can't remember how my thoughts went then,
can't remember who I was or what I felt like. All of that is gone,
erased. I opened our front door and found my mother hanging
from the rafters. I'm sorry, I said, and I stepped back and closed
the door. I was outside on the porch again.
You said that? Rhoda asked. You said you were sorry?
Oh, Mom.
It was long ago, Irene said. And it was something I couldn't
see even at the time, so I can't see it now. I don't know what she
looked like hanging there. I don't remember any of it, only that
it was.
Rhoda scooted closer on the couch and put her arm around
her mother, pulled her close. They both looked at the fire. A
metal screen in front, small hexagons, and the longer Rhoda
looked, the more these hexagons seemed like the back wall of
the fireplace, made golden by flame. As if the back wall, black
with soot, could be revealed or transmuted by fire. Then her eyes
would shift and it would be only a screen again. I wish I had
known her, Rhoda said.
Me too, Irene said. She patted Rhoda's knee. I need to get to
sleep. Busy day tomorrow.
I'll miss this place.
It was a good home. But your father wants to leave me, and the
first step is to make us move out to that island. To make it seem
he gave it a try.
That's not true, Mom.
We all have rules, Rhoda. And your father's main rule is that
he can never seem like the bad guy.
He loves you, Mom.
Irene stood and hugged her daughter. Goodnight, Rhoda.
In the morning, Irene carried her end of log after log, from the
truck to the boat. These are never going to fit together, she said
to her husband, Gary.
I'll have to plane them down a bit, he said, tight-lipped.
Irene laughed.
Thanks, Gary said. He already had that grim, worried look
that accompanied all his impossible projects.
Why not build a cabin with boards? Irene asked. Why does it
have to be a log cabin?
But Gary wasn't answering.
Suit yourself, she said. But these aren't even logs. None of
them is bigger than six inches. It's going to look like a hovel
made out of sticks.
They were at the upper campground on Skilak Lake, the
water a pale jade green from glacial runoff. Flaky from silt, and
because of its depth, never warmed much, even in late summer.
The wind across it chill and constant, and the mountains rising
from its eastern shore still had pockets of snow. From their tops,
Irene had often seen, on clear days, the white volcanic peaks of
Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna across the Cook Inlet and,
in the foreground, the broad pan of the Kenai Peninsula: spongy
green and red-purple moss, the stunted trees rimming wetlands
and smaller lakes, and the one highway snaking silver in sunlight
as a river. Mostly public land. Their house and their son Mark's
house the only buildings along the shore of Skilak, and even they
were tucked back into trees so the lake still could seem prehistoric,
wild. But it wasn't enough to be on the shore. They were
moving out, now, to Caribou Island.
Gary had backed his pickup close to where the boat sat on the
beach with an open bow, a ramp for loading cargo. With each
log, he stepped onto the boat and walked its length. A wobbly
walk, because the stern was in the water and bobbing.
Lincoln logs, Irene said.
I've heard about enough, Gary said.
Gary pulled another small log. Irene took her end. The sky
darkened a bit, and the water went from light jade to a blue-gray.
Irene looked up toward the mountain and could see one flank
whited. Rain, she said. Coming this way.
We'll just keep loading, Gary said. Put on your jacket if you
Gary wearing a flannel work shirt, long-sleeved, over his T-
shirt. Jeans and boots. His uniform. He looked like a younger
man, still fit for his mid-fifties. Irene still liked how he looked.
Unshaven, unshowered at the moment, but real.
Shouldn't take much longer, Gary said.
They were going to build their cabin from scratch. No foundation
even. And no plans, no experience, no permits, no advice
welcome. Gary wanted to just do it, as if the two of them were the
first to come upon this wilderness.
So they kept loading, and the rain came toward them a white
shadow over the water. A kind of curtain, the squall line, but
the first drops and wind always hit just before, invisible, working
ahead of what she could see, and this always came as a surprise
to Irene. Those last moments taken away. And then the wind
kicked up, the squall line hit, and the drops came down large and
heavy, insistent.
Irene grabbed her end of another log, walked toward the boat
with her face turned away from the wind. The rain blowing
sideways now, hitting hard. She wore no hat, no gloves. Her hair
matting, drips off her nose, and she felt that first chill as the rain
soaked through her shirt to her arms, one shoulder, her upper
back and neck. She hunched away from it as she walked, placed
her log, and then walked back hunched the other way, her other
side soaking through now, and she shivered.
Gary walking ahead of her, hunched also, his upper body
turned away from the rain as if it wanted to disobey his legs,
take off in its own direction. He grabbed the end of another log,
pulled it out, stepping backward, and then the rain hit harder.
The wind gusted, and the air was filled with water, white even
in close. The lake disappeared, the waves gone, the transition to
shore become speculative. Irene grabbed the log and followed
Gary into oblivion.
The wind and rain formed a roar, against which Irene could
hear no other sound. She walked mute, found the bow, placed
her log, turned and walked back, no longer hunched. There was
no dry part left to save. She was soaked through.
Gary walked past her a kind of bird man, his arms curved out
like wings first opening. Trying to keep his wet shirt away from
his skin? Or some instinctive first response to battle, readying his
arms? When he stopped at the truck bed, water streamed off the
end of his nose. His eyes hard and small, focused.
Irene moved in close. Should we stop? she yelled over the roar.
We have to get this load out to the island, he yelled back, and
then he pulled another log, so Irene followed, though she knew
she was being punished. Gary could never do this directly. He
relied on the rain, the wind, the apparent necessity of the project.
It would be a day of punishment. He would follow it, extend it
for hours, drive them on, a grim determination, like fate. A form
of pleasure to him.
Irene followed because once she had endured she could punish.
Her turn would come. And this is what they had done to each
other for decades now, irresistibly. Fine, she would think. Fine.
And that meant, just wait.
Another half an hour of loading logs in the rain. Irene was
going to get sick from this, chilled through. They should have
been wearing rain gear, which they had in the cab of the truck,
but their stubbornness toward each other had prevented that. If
she had gone for her jacket when Gary suggested it, that would
have interrupted the work, slowed them down, and it would have
been noted, held against her, a small shake of the head, perhaps
even a sigh, but removed by long enough he could pretend it wasn't
about that. Above all else, Gary was an impatient man: impatient
with the larger shape of his life, with who he was and what he'd
done and become, impatient with his wife and children, and
then, of course, impatient with all the little things, any action not
done correctly, any moment of weather that was uncooperative.
A general and abiding impatience she had lived in for over thirty
years, an element she had breathed.
The last log loaded, finally, and Gary and Irene swung the
bow ramp into place. It was not heavy, not reassuring. Black
rubber where it met the side plates of the boat, forming a seal.
This would be their only way back and forth from the island.
I'll park the truck, Gary said, and stomped off through the
rocks. The rain still coming down, though not as blown now.
Enough visibility to know direction, though not enough to see the
island from here, a couple miles out. Irene wondered what would
happen when they were in the middle. Would they see any of the
shore, or only white all around them? No GPS on the boat, no
radar, no depth finder. It's a lake, Gary had said at the dealership.
It's only a lake.
There's water in the boat, Irene said when Gary returned.
It was pooling under the logs, gathered especially in the stern,
almost a foot deep from all the rain.
We'll take care of it once we're out, Gary said. I don't want to
use the battery for the bilge pump without the engine on.
So what's the plan? Irene asked. She didn't know how they
would push the boat off the beach, weighed down with the
You know, I'm not the only one who wanted this, Gary said.
It's not just my plan. It's our plan.
This was a lie, but too big a lie to address right here, right
now, in the rain. Fine, Irene said. How do we get the boat off the
Gary looked at the boat for a few moments. Then he bent
down and gave the bow a push. It didn't budge.
The front half of the boat was on land, and Irene was guessing
that meant hundreds of pounds at this point, fully loaded. Gary
hadn't thought of this, obviously. He was making it up as he went
Gary walked around to one side and then the other. He
climbed over logs to the stern, to the outboard engine, leaned
against this and pushed hard, trying to rock the boat, but it
might as well have been made of lead. No movement whatsoever.
So Gary crawled forward, hopped ashore, looked at the boat
for a while. Help me push, he finally said. Irene lined up beside
him, he counted one, two, three, and they both pushed at the bow.
Their feet slipped in the black pebbles, but no other movement.
It can never be easy, Gary said. Not a single thing. It can never
just work out.
As if to prove what he was saying, the rain came down heavier
again, the wind increasing, cold off the glacier. If you wanted to
be a fool and test the limits of how bad things could get, this
was a good place for it. Irene knew Gary wouldn't appreciate any
comments, though. She tried to be supportive. Maybe we could
come back tomorrow, she said. The weather's supposed to
improve a bit. We could unload and push it out, then load again.
No, Gary said. I don't feel like doing it tomorrow. I'm taking
this load out today.
Irene held her tongue.
Gary stomped off to the truck. Irene stood in the rain, soaked
and wanting to be warm and dry. Their house very close, a few
minutes away. Hot bath, start a fire.
Gary drove the truck onto the beach, curving up toward the
trees, then down to the boat until he had the bumper close to the
bow. Let me know how close, he yelled out the window.
So Irene walked over and told him, and he eased forward until
the bumper was touching.
Okay, Irene said.
Gary gave it a little gas, and pebbles flew out behind his rear
wheels. The boat didn't budge. He shifted to low four-wheel
drive, gave it more gas, all four tires digging in, pebbles slamming
the underside of the truck body. The boat started to slip, then
went back fast into the water, drifting away in a curve.
Grab the bow line! Gary yelled out his window. Irene rushed
forward to grab the line that was loose on the beach. She caught
it and dug in her heels, lay back on the beach pulling hard until
the pressure eased. Then she just lay there, looking up into the
dark white sky. She could see the rain as streaks before it hit her
face. No gloves, her hands cold and the nylon line rough. The
pebbles and larger stones hard against the back of her head. Her
clothing a wet and cold outer shell.
She heard Gary drive the truck up to the parking area, and
then heard his boots on the way back, large determined strides.
Okay, he said, standing over her. Let's go.
What she wished was that he would just lie down beside her.
The two of them on this beach. They would give up, let the rope
go, let the boat drift away, forget about the cabin, forget about
all that hadn't gone right over the years and just go back to their
house and warm up and start over. It didn't seem impossible. If
they both decided to do it, they could.


Excerpted from Caribou Island by David Vann Copyright © 2012 by David Vann. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 1, 2011


    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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2013


    "You're dead shuddup."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2013

    Dark and unhappy but made me think.

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2012

    Waste of Time!!!

    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!

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  • Posted June 22, 2012

    Dark depressing

    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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  • Posted August 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The path from normalcy to insanity is literally a mere boat ride away.

    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 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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  • Posted March 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Sad, Beautiful, and Genuine

    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...

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  • Posted February 26, 2011


    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!

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  • Posted February 25, 2011

    Worst book ever!

    So disappointed in this book! Not only was the story awful but a first grader could write with better grammar!

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    No sugar coating here: very real and biting

    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!

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