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Caribou Island [Hardcover]

David Vann
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Jan 2011

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unravelling.

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 out to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to patch together the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place.

Across the water on the mainland, Irene and Gary's grown daughter, Rhoda is starting her own life. She fantasizes about the perfect wedding day, whilst her betrothed, Jim the dentist, wonders about the possibility of an altogether different future.

From the author of the massively-acclaimed Legend of a Suicide, comes a devastating novel about a marriage, a couple blighted by past shadows and the weight of expectation, of themselves and of each other. Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest in its depiction of love and disappointment, David Vann's first novel confirms him as one of America's most dazzling writers of fiction.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (18 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061875724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061875724
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,372,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Gets to places other novels can't touch (New York Times)

An extravagantly gifted and moving writer (Sunday Times)

Wields an unforgiving, elemental power that is breathtaking to read (Independent on Sunday)

Beautiful, richly atmospheric . . . deserves to consolidate Vann's position among America's literary high flyers (Evening Standard)

The prose here frequently achieves a quite astonishing beauty (Daily Telegraph)

A novel of fine artistry and stark emotional truth - full of our darkest currents and faintest sounds (The Times)

A writer to read and reread (Economist)

Beautifully written and bitterly funny (Financial Times)

Caribou Island is a scant 300 pages, and written in prose as pellucid as the rivers he used to fish as a boy. But it says so much: about men and women, about marriage, about the desperate gap between who we want to be and who we are (Observer) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Vann was born on Adak Island, Alaska, and spent his childhood in Ketchikan. His first work of fiction, Legend of a Suicide, was originally published in 2008. It won seven literary awards and was selected for twenty-five 'Books of the Year' lists including the New York Times. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cold and dark - an Alaskan tragedy 22 Jan 2011
David Vann first came to attention with Legend of a Suicide, a fictionalised account of his father's suicide which left readers wondering where fact stopped and fiction started. Its three stories acted as a sort of prolonged meditation on suicide and the reasons for it, while digressing into some horrific stories of how a teenager may seek retribution on an erring father.
Vann's second novel Caribou Island has much in common with his first, both in theme (suicide) and location (Alaska). The cover says it all. This is a bleak and inhospitable country, best left to bears and eagles and I am sure the Alaskan tourist authority will not be thanking Vann for his depiction of this dark and threatening region.

Irene and Gary, a retired couple have a relationship based on passive-aggressive hostility. Gary always wanted to be a back-woodsman, but got "trapped" into taking a regular job in order to raise a family. He hates his wife so much that he persuades her to help him build a log cabin on an uninhabited island (as though the community they already live in isn't barren enough!). Irene's reasons for joining in this mad escapade are never made clear, but she seems to have some sense of marital obligation which readers soon find is going to lead her to disaster. Vann's accounts of Gary and Irene's attempts to get the building materials across to the island in a little metal boat depict a level of suffering which is sufficient in itself to show the hardships in store for this ill-fated couple.

Meanwhile, their daughter Rhoda lives with her dentist-fiancé Jim.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reading Group Hit! 26 April 2011
By Jan
This was chosen for our Reading Group and it provoked one of the best discussions that we have had for some time.
Most people had enjoyed the book to a greater or lesser extent, except for one person who described it as "just sex and scenery". The rest of us did not necessarily think this was a bad thing! We thought that the magnificent descriptions of the magnificent scenery were a valuable part of the book and constant references to the intense beauty and emptiness of the area was far more than a mere backdrop to the story. It was essential to understand the environment to understand the people involved in this tragic situation.
We wondered if the same events could just as easily have taken place elsewhere, for example inner city bed-sit land, as it is possible to be extremely lonely and isolated from other people anywhere. We decided that although these two people would have been unhappily married wherever they lived the end was almost inevitable from the moment they moved to Alaska.
We all agreed that the author presented an excellent account of ways in which human relationships fail and through this, a glimpse of how they might actually be made to work. We all hoped very much that Rhoda would buck the trend and leave her dentist before it was too late, but were not surprised that she didn't. One person is still hoping that her parents' tragedy will shake her enough that she will realise the mistake she is about to make, but the rest of us are not that hopeful!
One person wondered if we are all destined to turn into our parents as history seemed to be repeating itself for the third generation in this story! We had an amusing few minutes, all hoping desperately that this was not happening, but concluding that it probably was true after all!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars < Legend of a Suicide 15 Jun 2011
"Misery loves company, he said. And all you wanted to do was drag me down with you. You're a mean old b*tch. You don't say it but you're thinking it, always judging. Gary doesn't know what he's doing. Gary hasn't planned a thing, hasn't thought ahead. Always a little bit of judgment. A mean old b*tch."
"You're a monster", she said.
"See? I'm a monster. I'm the f****** monster." (Vann, 2011: 265-6)

This here is the torturous back-and-forth between Gary and Irene, a middle-aged couple who have, on the directive of Gary, decided to build a log cabin on an Alaskan island and live there. This is the core of David Vann's Caribou Island, the follow up to his intriguing Legend of a Suicide. Caribou Island pretty much shares the same setting as Legend; the cold, isolated Alaskan wilderness, and draws parallels with Legend's story; it's momentum being driven by the mental anguish of a central character. Also thrown into Caribou's mix are Gary and Irene's grown children, Rhoda and Mark - the former a veterinary nurse dating Jim, an older dentist who's unfaithful to her, the latter a distant young man who works various jobs. For the first two-thirds of the novel, two of Mark's friends, a couple from D.C., Monique and Carl also feature; an unsuited couple, she promiscuous and daring, he hapless and out of his depth. Gary is introverted and is driven by the ill-thought out plan of moving permanently to a log cabin which he would build with Irene. Irene abides but is certain Gary's plan is just a way of breaking their relationship and that he will soon leave her. And here is essentially the main problem of Caribou Island: the characters (with mild exception of Rhoda) are all obnoxious, either self-pitying or selfish characters.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Bleak but powerful
David Vann's latest novel is imbued with the sights, smells and sounds of Alaska. The isolation and emptiness of the landscape is vividly evoked and hauntingly reflected in the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amanda Jenkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad Little Tale
Gary is trying to follow his dream & build a log cabin on a desolate island; Irene is just trying to keep her marriage together. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Lorna
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint hearted
Terrible and terrifying story of father and son. Chilling and poetic in a gruesome way. Don't read it if you expect romance.
Published 15 months ago by Angela G
4.0 out of 5 stars Very dark, utterly convincing
This is a book that reflects its setting. The style is spare and the themes are dark. The cold, forbidding atmosphere of Caribou Island and the surrounding area just add to the... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Andrew Blackman
5.0 out of 5 stars Because the cabin was not about the cabin
David Vann, in Caribou Island, displays emotions and human behaviors through actions in a way I've never seen before. Read more
Published on 31 July 2011 by Alex
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read if you don't mind a few Holes
I came in to this book without having any knowledge of the author or his previous work. I was pleasantly surprised with the setting, characterisations and even the writing style... Read more
Published on 4 July 2011 by William Bond
4.0 out of 5 stars relentlessy and compellingly bleak.
this is a gripping read set in the bleak wastes of alaska. a long descent into marital decline, it's only going to end one way - in tears (and worse) for all concerned. Read more
Published on 26 May 2011 by D. A. Hart
4.0 out of 5 stars David Vann's Evocative Dark and Bleak Alaska
The first halve of this book moved to slow for me . I found nothing more than a coulple from the mainland USA in early retirement in Alaska and there grown children with usual... Read more
Published on 21 Mar 2011 by R.O. P
4.0 out of 5 stars Bleak but beautiful.
I have not read David Vann's first novel, Legend of a Suicide, so I came to Caribou Island with fresh eyes, you might say, and had no idea what to expect. Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2011 by Charliecat
5.0 out of 5 stars On the island of no escape.
I did not read Vann's previous 'Legend of a suicide' and I am glad I did not because the shock of reading 'Caribou Island' came intact and whole. Read more
Published on 26 Feb 2011 by Ann Fairweather
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