This is less a novel, and not even really a collection of short stories. Mainly narrated by a character named Roy, at different stages in his life, it is really a series of snapshots about Roy’s father’s suicide when Roy was a young boy, the events that led up to his father taking his own life, and the lasting effects it had on Roy, Sandwiched in the middle is a longer story (about 165 pages) about an ill fated plan for Roy and his father to spend a year living on a very remote Alaskan island. About two thirds of the way through this story is a twist that was so surprising that I had to re-read it to make sure I had seen the words correctly. This twist didn’t fit in with the other stories at all, and actually confused me until I realised what the author was doing.
On the positive side, some of the writing in the book is eloquent and almost beautiful. Other reviewers have likened it to the writing of Cormac McCarthy and I can see the comparison, although I certainly prefer McCarthy’s work. However, as good as the writing is, I just felt that I could not connect with this book on any level, and actually looked forward to when I could finish it and put it down. While I can certainly see how the longer story set on the remote island could pack a punch for some readers, I felt that maybe I was missing the point, and actually almost gave up on reading it (it was the only the fact that I hate not finishing any book once I’ve started that made me press on).
I hope that writing the book may have been cathartic for the author, whose own father committed suicide when David Vann was a young boy. But for me, something just didn’t click, and all I was left with after finishing the book was relief that it was finished, and a general feeling of malaise. It’s clear from other reviews I’ve read that some readers felt very moved by this story and it had a profound effect on some people. Unfortunately, that certainly is not the case with me. I’d probably hesitate to recommend this to anyone, but if someone did want to read it, I’d suggest that they have something lighthearted on hand to read afterwards.
(Author’s website can be found here.)