Caribou Island: A Novel

Caribou Island: A Novel

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 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.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061875731
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/03/2012
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 763,453
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.

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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Caribou Island 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 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
Litfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading Caribou Island is the literary equivalent of witnessing a really horrible car accident¿you really don¿t want to see the awfulness that¿s about to unfold, but there¿s something holding you there frozen such that you can¿t look away. At its core this is the story of the gradual disintegration of the marriage of Gary and Irene, an Alaskan couple in their mid-50s. Gary¿s decision to build a cabin on remote Caribou Island, against Irene¿s wishes, brings to a head all the regrets and resentments of their years together and draws the marriage, and both spouses, to the breaking point. There is little that¿s likeable or endearing about any of the characters. Gary and Irene¿s grown children are floundering in their own lives, and there is no standout example of a happy relationship here. As a meditation on marriage the novel doesn¿t offer a great deal of hope about the institution. With all of that said, I could not put this book down. Unlikeable characters (and this is usually really a sticking point for me as a reader) aside, the writing is so hypnotic that it sinks into you and doesn¿t let go. Vann¿s descriptions of the Alaska wilderness are vivid and bring the stark landscape to life, as a stunning backdrop for the desolation of Gary and Irene¿s crumbling marriage. This isn¿t the novel for those looking for a feel-good story or a happy ending. But for those who appreciate a well-crafted, albeit disturbing, story that can unflinchingly examine the fallout of relationships gone wrong, this novel will be riveting.
CatheOlson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Irene's husband Gary decides to build a log cabin on a secluded Alaskan island for them to live . . . Irene agrees because she is afraid he will leave her if she doesn't. After hauling logs in a bad storm, Irene is afflicted with painful headaches but doctors can find no cause. Meanwhile, her daughter Rhoda (pretty much the only likeable character in the book) is living with a guy who doesn't really love her and her son Mark is in his own world of fishing and getting high. A pretty miserable bunch for sure. So what was it that made this disturbing and depressing book so compelling for me? The writing for one. Vann is a great writer and really brought these characters to life -- not to mention how he pulls Alaska in there as almost another character. Every once in a while a book surprises me and this was one of those books. I'd never read David Vann before but you can bet I'll be reading more of him in the future.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gary and Irene have been married a long time, living most of their lives in the desolate wilderness of Alaska. Their two children are now grown up ¿ Rhoda looking forward to marrying her dentist boyfriend Jim, and Mark living with his girlfriend while he makes a living fishing the waters of unpredictable waters of the bay. No one is happy in this novel of failing relationships, disloyalty, escapism from reality, and regrets. Caribou Island tells the story of a marriage sliding into violence and uses the backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness as a symbol of the isolation of the characters.David Vann¿s writing has been compared with that of Cormac McCarthy ¿ and for good reason. The starkness of the prose, the realistic and razor sharp dialogue (absent quotation marks), and the hard-hitting plot that moves relentlessly forward toward disaster reads very much like a McCarthy novel. But, Vann has his own style, a way of getting inside his characters¿ heads which is uniquely his own. Gary is a brilliant character ¿ a man who could have been a success in anything he chose, but instead he escapes to the wilds of Alaska where he fails at everything.He had lived almost his entire adult life in exile, in Alaska, a self-exile as good as any sea, and he wanted now to experience the very worst this storm could throw at him. - from Caribou Island, page 190 -Irene has followed Gary into his self-imposed exile out of her unquestioning love for him. But, as the seams of their marriage begin to unravel, desperation begins to drive her toward a brutal understanding of how much she has lost.Caribou Island moves forward like a train gathering momentum and heading toward certain disaster. There can be no good end, and yet the reader cannot stop reading. And this is what is most compelling about Vann¿s writing: tragedy is just around the corner, but we cannot look away. As the conflict between Irene and Gary grows, so too does the inevitability of the plot.This is a dark and psychologically terrifying novel about the dissolution of a marriage. It haunted me. David Vann writes with honesty and sharp-edged realism that is hard to ignore. Not every reader will want to travel through this story with Vann, but for those who do, it will be a ride they will not soon forget.Readers who enjoy noir and literary fiction, who have respected the writing of authors like Cormac McCarthy, and who like psychological thrillers will undoubtedly be impressed with Caribou Island.Highly recommended.
kakadoo202 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this book gave me goosebumps at the end. amazing how the atmosphere is creating. you can feel the cold and the desperation of the characters. constantly you are on the edge wonder what is next. a true page turner.
blockbuster1994 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am predicting this will be my favorite books of 2011. I consumed this book in two days. Thank goodness for the blizzard that kept me at home.Caribou Island is a well written book, but a very depressing one, that delves into dark emotions. The characters are completely unlikeable, those people who feel suffocated by their circumstances and sorry about their lives. Gary and Irene have married for 30 plus years, and Gary wants to leave his wife--or so he thinks. But instead of leaving her outright, he decides to drive her away through circumstance by building, and ultimately living in, an ill conceived cabin on a remote Alaska Island in the middle of an especially harsh winter. Irene knows what Gary is trying to do and although she hates every single moment of this cabin project, she participates in it, thwarting his great escape-the-marriage plan, but also driving herself insane.Other characters include their equally miserable daughter, Rhoda (who may be destined to repeat this couple's failures) and their drug addicted, unmotivated son, Mark. He is easily my favorite character, as he accepts life for being just life, no regrets. The setting is stunning, capturing Alaska in all its brutal mystery. The actual demise of the characters, while violent, is honest. Although there are no good feelings to be had at the end of the book, it does make sense and is a satisfyingly good read.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Caribou Island¿ is a book that magnified my impression of the very short amount of time I spent in Alaska. I found it to be an amazing place, one of breathtaking beauty and awe inspiring spectacles of nature¿but from the second I got off the plane¿I felt that this was a place that humans were not meant to be. There¿s something about the sky ¿ about the very air that felt like a pregnant pause. That nature was just waiting, patiently for now, for people to leave so she could reclaim what was hers.This book takes place in Alaska, and several of the characters, after living most or all of their lives there, seem to be coming to that conclusion as well. This book chronicles a tipping point in a family¿s lives that is desperate and dark and seemingly inevitable.¿At the moment, though, Alaska felt like the end of the world, a place of exile. Those who couldn¿t fit anywhere else came here, and if they couldn¿t cling to anything here, they just fell off the edge. These tiny towns in a great expanse, enclaves of despair.¿Gary and Irene are the main characters, spouses whose marriage has evolved to a point where they are leaving their home to build a primitive cabin on an island just in time for winter. Neither seems to find any joy in the project (or in their lives as a whole) but Gary relentlessly pushes on and Irene, nearly incapacitated by headaches, feels compelled to keep pace with him in this endeavor.¿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 him 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.¿Their daughter, Rhoda, seems a bit oblivious to the bleakness of her parent¿s marriage¿yet not completely as she seems to be making some choices that might lead her life to the same hopeless place.¿Rhoda could see how marriage might feel lonely. A new feeling she couldn¿t quite describe or even reach. Something at the edges, something she didn¿t like. She could imagine long periods of time in which they wouldn¿t say much to each other, just moving individually around the house.¿It seems hard to believe that any of these people ever experienced real love or any fulfilling kind of human connection. Their interactions with one another seem barely normal on the surface and filled with rage and pain underneath. Although I was interested in their stories and wanted to find out the details of the ending, I kept wondering how on earth they¿d remained even this stable this long.They grit out their lives, living ¿ just because. Until nature, or their natures, overtake them, take back what is hers and their humanity is banished.
suballa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While trying to find the love that has slipped away, a couple sets out to build a cabin on Caribou Island. Irene and Gary have drifted apart over the years, both blaming the other for their unfulfilled lives. In an attempt to recapture the ideal that drew them to Alaska in the first place, Gary and Irene begin construction on an isolated, rustic cabin on Caribou Island. For Gary, this is a chance to finally live his life the way he always intended to live it. Irene sees the cabin as Gary¿s way of leaving her behind, knowing full well that secluded cabin life is Gary¿s dream and not hers. The cabin becomes a representation of their marriage; built without proper planning, materials, or foundation, and morphing into something uglier than either had ever envisioned. Like a psychological game of chicken, Gary and Irene forge ahead with construction, neither one wanting to be the first to give up on it or their marriage. Caught in the middle is their adult daughter Rhoda. Watching her parents¿ marriage fall apart before her eyes, Rhoda tries unsuccessfully to play peacemaker without much support from her brother or boyfriend. Rhoda¿s own life seems stagnant and she must decide what kind of life she wants for herself. Imagery abounds in this powerful novel of a husband and wife fighting the elements and each other as they speed toward ruin.
dreamreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like several other reviewers, I am drawn to stories of ordinary characters being driven to darkly extraordinary lengths. After devouring David Vann's Caribou Island yesterday, I was reminded of A.M. Homes' Music for Torching - another chilling account of a marriage imploding beneath the weight of disappointment. Here against the vast expanse of Alaska, Vann exposes the claustrophobic aloneness of lives filled with regret or false hope. After thirty-plus years of marriage, Irene grows painfully aware that she's been tethered to Gary as a mere accessory in his life, and her 30-year old daughter Rhoda is on the verge of recreating such a life with her narcisstic fiancé Jim. Irene suffers unrelenting and unbearable headaches, her realization of a wasted life as palpable as the hard, cold rain assaulting her on the island where Gary insists on building his misbegotten log cabin. Vann sustains a propelling air of suspense to the end, as Irene's illness and Gary's cabin - dueling metaphors for their roles in the long seige of their marriage - drive them to their inevitable resolution.
Likeitorlumpit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with a previous review that said this novel was bleak and cold. If you take one look at the cover it doesn't lie. I should have believed it. The story weaved back and forth between several characters in the setting of a remote fishing village in Alaska. Upon reading this book, I never want to visit Alaska. The writer conveyed the parallel mood of the setting with the characters very well. I sure hope that not everyone who lives in Alaska are desperate, unfulfilled, depressed, resigned, or detached potheads. I'm not sure why I brought this book home or why I finished it. The writing style was good. Although, I did have some trouble following the dialogue. The ending was very unsatisfying. Could be that I just didn't "get" it. The references to some old european languages and stories??? In the end, I kept reading it, but I sure would not recommend it to any of my friends.
SignoraEdie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this a very difficult book to read. I stuck with it because I held on to hope that something redeeming would occur. I could not relate to the characters and for the most part, did not even like them. It is very dark and left me with a heavy sense of resignation. Too many wonderful books out there to subject myself to this. The only positive I came away with was excellent descriptions of Alaska, which is what drew me to the book in the first place.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is .. there is no single word to describe it. Some words that come close are:BleakColdAchingVoidI was unprepared for the heavy, depressive feel of the story and, thinking back on it, I should have been prepared. The cover is dark, the setting is not known for it's warmth (thus inspiring feelings of joy), and, although I felt my mood descending with each page read, I couldn't tear my eyes or my thoughts away from the train-wreck of a story the people in Caribou Island were living.I found the way the book to be written, the transitions between characters to be mildly confusing at first, but then the rhythm of the book began to flow and the imagery was so powerful it added even more to the story. I felt cold, depressed, an aching hunger and even began to experience daggers of pain in my head in sympathy to the pains that Irene felt. While this is a powerful book and a powerful story, it wasn't the book for me. I prefer books with an element of redemption to give me a sense of satisfaction in finishing - but I found none of that here. I found no closure, just heartbreak and, in thinking back on having read it, I'm amazed that I devoted so much time and invested so much energy in pushing through the story. I have a difficult time rating books for the above reasons. I found the writing to be masterful, the images created to be brilliant but the story just wasn't for me. So this time, I am going to rate the book on how it made me feel and hope that this review provides enough of a warning so that others who might also be looking for something a bit more hopeful can pick up this story prepared.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Irene and Gary are in a failing relationship. Though things seems civil on the surface, Irene is convinced that this is the last winter that the couple will spend together, sure that Gary will leave her. When Gary decides to build a cabin on Caribou Island, he enlists Irene¿s help, but all the couple seem to do is snipe at each other more and more aggressively. Meanwhile, Gary and Irene¿s adult daughter Rhoda is hoping to receive a marriage proposal from Jim, her long term boyfriend. But Jim isn¿t all that thrilled about settling down with Rhoda and thinks perhaps he can do better. Irene and Gary also have a grown son named Mark, who is basically a shiftless pothead who wants very little to do with the rest of his family and whose prospects have gradually dwindled. When a new couple of Mark¿s acquaintance starts hanging around, the woman of the couple, Monique, a manipulative twenty-something, begins to dangerously tempt Rhoda¿s boyfriend Jim, a situation that Rhoda is oblivious to. After a particularly grueling day spent building the cabin, Irene seems to have developed a chronic and severe headache that she just can¿t shake. After several medical tests reveal nothing, her family is left doubting whether there is anything wrong with her at all or if this is just an attempt to get attention from her fumbling husband. As the misshapen cabin grows, things begin to take a sinister turn in the couple¿s marriage, leading to an act of bizarre and frightening violence from which the family will never recover. Bleak and caustic, Caribou Island presents a slice of the life of one family whose dysfunction and apathy will reverberate through all the lives they touch.While this book had a lot of wonderful and evocative imagery and real ambiance of life in Alaska, I found it to be a very tough pill to swallow. The story was not only dark, but it had all the hallmarks of an irredeemable tragedy that I found very upsetting. The relationship between Irene and Gary was just painful to read about, and though the book mainly dealt with this from Irene¿s perspective, It seemed like she was right on the money in predicting just what Gary was thinking in regards to his plans to leave her. I didn¿t really like Irene or Gary at all. They were both self-involved, and at least in Irene¿s case, there was enough self-pity shooting through her thoughts and actions to slay a horse. Both halves of this couple seemed miserable with each other, and one of the questions I asked myself is how they had managed to stay together for thirty-odd years without realizing that they were just not good for each other. This book started off in the throes of a desperate time for Irene and Gary, and as such, there was no opportunity for me to see what kept this couple together or to witness any of the good times that they ostensibly had. It was like walking into a room at the tail end of a fight, and it felt awkward and uncomfortable, to say the least.I also had a hard time with the relationship between Rhoda and Jim. While Rhoda is basically driving herself crazy over her mother and father¿s doomed relationship and the strange turn in her mother¿s health, Jim is off acting like a sleazeball. I wanted Rhoda to be able to see him for what he was, but this never happened. Though she did begin to suspect that Jim was changing right before her eyes, she never really caught on to what he was going through or the resolutions he had made, and those resolutions were a doozy, let me tell you! I began to see that Rhoda¿s relationship would eventually mirror her mother¿s, and towards the end of the book, Irene even states this obvious fact to her daughter, but nothing could make Rhoda see the deception that Jim was engaged in. Rhoda also had some aspects of co-dependency to her personality, and whether or not she enabled her mother to act in such a bizarre fashion was something that remains cloudy in my mind. Though I really disliked the subplot between Rhoda and Jim, I was eager to s
lukespapa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isolating, desolating, Alaska is the perfect backdrop for this dark novel that examines a long-time marriage coming apart at the seams. When the husband decides to retreat further into Alaska¿s wilderness by building a cabin, he alienates his long-suffering wife while at the same time putting her through emotional and physical hardship. Through the event the author asks his audience to consider the cost and consequence of self-sacrifice inherent in a committed relationship. The outcome leaves no doubt that love misplaced can be tragic. Deeply depressing yet exquisitely written, this is a cautionary tale worth reading.
jules72653 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite the author's lack of quotation marks to indicate dialogue, I really enjoyed this book. The story is set in Alaska and details Gary and Irene's relationship after 30 years of marriage. Their adult children are also involved as well as a couple of other minor characters. It is not a happy story but the struggles seem true. The end was inevitable but I felt a small let down as I think it needed one more small chapter for closure. Or a sequel.
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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