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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hearts of a dysfunctional darkness ...
Galen lives with his mother in the family home. He is trying to find transcendence through meditation so he can leave this earthly plain and free himself. His mother has controlled him for all of his life and manipulates him to stay at home, she has a rose-tinted view of her childhood. His aunt is the opposite and is trying to get hold of the family inheritance and views...
Published on 22 May 2012 by P. Millar

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Transcendental meditation and dirty deeds
It's 1985 in Sacramento, California and 22-year-old Galen lives with his 46-year-old mother Suzie-Q in a remote house that she has spent her whole life living in. Galen, a bulemic vegetarian, seeks transcendence or the state of being free from the constraints of the material world, so he is not particularly interested in the money that his mother claims she has access to...
Published 15 months ago by OEJ


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hearts of a dysfunctional darkness ..., 22 May 2012
By 
P. Millar "dazzle" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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Galen lives with his mother in the family home. He is trying to find transcendence through meditation so he can leave this earthly plain and free himself. His mother has controlled him for all of his life and manipulates him to stay at home, she has a rose-tinted view of her childhood. His aunt is the opposite and is trying to get hold of the family inheritance and views her growing up as painful. His cousin, whom he lusts after, teases him sexually and is just as manipulative and cynical as the others in his family. His grandmother has alzheimers and lives in a care home. A trip to the family cabin brings the realtionships to a head and sets Galen off on the path of true freedom.

This is a dark and unforgiving novel where none of the characters have any real redeeming qualities, the closest you have to a sympathetic character is Galen himself. All the characters can either be viewed as either products of their upbringing or they are naturally nasty and cynical. This leads into thoughts about nature vs. nurture which is why, I think, David Vann doesn't bring in any particular motives for their actions and thoughts.

The first part starts fairly light and humorous (mostly at the expense of New Age-ism) and slowly this turns darker and nastier as the novel progresses. David Vann is a master stylist and he handles the almost non-existent plot and unlikebale characters with skill - the way he makes the book readable is with the prose, which it is easy to get swept up in.

I have a feeling this is the type of novel that critics will like and the vast majority of readers unfamiliar with David Vann will dis-like - but for once in a modern novel it is not just style over substance. I have read Vann's previous novel Caribou Island so I had some idea of how the novel would be written.

Overall if you enjoy ultra-modern fiction or wish to try something from someone who is turning out to be a true master of the literary form then this is a must read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DIRT, 16 Aug 2012
By 
Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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This is the third David Vann book I have read and reviewed and I think it is the best of the three.

I don't think you can expect to read a frothy light David Vann novel. His novels are dark tales of human dysfunction. The first two were so similar that they almost seemed to be the same novel. Here the setting is California rather than Alaska and the cast of characters is smaller, only six, two warring middle aged sisters, their senile mother and two cousins, Galen, a 22 year old virgin who is rather too closely wrapped in his mother's apron strings and who to me seems to display behaviour reminiscent of Asberger's Syndrome and Jennifer, a sexually precocious and provocative minx. The other character is the dead father who appeared to have been abusive to people around him yet appeared also to have been the only person to have led any kind of useful life. This makes the story seem more intense and claustrophobic in character - just don't expect a happy ending, it won't happen.

To give readers a bit of a taste of what to expect, I think it worth quoting a passage in which the vegetarian Galen eats a load of pigs in blankets [sausages wrapt in bacon] ostensibly to annoy his mother. 'Thank you, his mother said. And she passed the plate. A dozen piggies in their blankets. Galen slid them all onto his plte and then he stuffed them in his mouth with both fists, hot doughy intestinal meat with the taste of butchery floors and tongues and hooves. His cousing laughing and his mother gone again and he kept stuffing and chewing and swallowing the little abominations until there were only shards on his plate, the ruins of the feast, and then he bent down to lick his plate clean, left the table with his stomach heaving and lurched up the stairs to his room and bathroom to vomit into the toilet. When he was done, he folded his arms on the toilet seat, his mouth acidic, and he took a little nap. Closed his eyes and slept on the toilet with the unclean water below, thought about dipping his head in for a drink, and he would have done it if his mother had been watching.'

Priceless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extreme and uncompromising, 14 Dec 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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This is a vicious, brutal read full of hatred and violence - and, yet, at the same time, it's utterly compelling and intense. With Vann, all the gloves are off as he gets inside the shocking and sometimes nauseating head of 22-year old Galen, still a virgin and linked to his mother through a relationship of hating co-dependence.

This isn't a book for anyone who likes traditional storytelling or moral narrative: this is bleak, disturbing and as grubby as the title promises.

Vann is a writer who doesn't just take risks and push boundaries but throws the reader headlong into a chaos of emotional and narrative danger. This may well be one of the most powerful reads of the year, but it's also one to approach with caution - you have been warned!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Transcendental meditation and dirty deeds, 2 April 2013
By 
OEJ - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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It's 1985 in Sacramento, California and 22-year-old Galen lives with his 46-year-old mother Suzie-Q in a remote house that she has spent her whole life living in. Galen, a bulemic vegetarian, seeks transcendence or the state of being free from the constraints of the material world, so he is not particularly interested in the money that his mother claims she has access to by way of an inheritance from her abusive father. Galen's grandmother is still alive though, albeit with a failing memory, and the only other characters are Suzie's sister Helen and her promiscuous 17-year-old daughter Jennifer. The story starts off in one direction - Helen's fury at not having access to the family riches - but then changes to focus almost exclusively on Galen's pursuit of transcendence. He is distracted by the sexual advances of his teenage cousin, and one or two of these incestuous experiences are described in intimate detail, yet the very long-drawn-out ending has little to do with that and very much to do with the irrelevance of everything physical and material.

After a few chapters this promises to become an entertaining black comedy, but it never really fulfills that impression. In many ways emotions are described too literally and even obviously. It would have been better to have left more to the reader's imagination, but the author consistently saves the reader the bother of wondering about details and tells us himself. So despite being a relatively short novel, there's a degree of excessive and unnecessarily heavy dialogue and narrative that spells out for the reader what might have been more entertaining to figure out for ourselves. On the other hand, this could be seen as simply the deliberately adopted style of the story-telling and some might welcome it. Personally I found it a bit OTT, and would have preferred more subtlety, more vagueness.

As it is, it's a slightly odd story, or at the very least a story about an odd family, and a family that's hard to sympathise with or feel any empathy towards. Almost all of the personality of the family is embodied by Galen, and despite the very intensive examinations of his identity it's somehow difficult to really know who or what he is. The most likely explanation is that he is the result of years of emotional abuse (mainly by his mother), but as this all happened in the past, we can only gloss over that as very little of that abuse appears in the narrative. The bottom line is that this is a cold-hearted family with little in the way of conventional bonding, and Galen's obsession with transcendence only serves to underline that isolation and sense of pointlessness.

I selected this novel in direct response to the positive reviews I had read here, but the reading experience has been a disappointment. It kept my attention throughout but I can't say that I truly enjoyed it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disturbing read, 4 May 2012
By 
Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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Galan is a disturbed young man, although he is 22 he behaves like a much younger man. Throughout the book we get to know him, along with his mother, grandmother, aunt and cousin. They are generally a pretty odd bunch of individuals who combine together to make a very uncomfortable family group.
It's not always necessary to like characters in a book but it is important to find some empathy towards someone but I couldn't find anything in this book to make me want to care about any of the people involved, except maybe the grandmother occasionally.
There is a feeling of The Wasp Factory about the way the story is told but it is nowhere near as good as that.
If you're not sure whether to read this book, I would recommend giving it a miss.
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4.0 out of 5 stars *shocked*, 21 April 2014
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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Vicious. Debased. Bitter. Thrilling. Un-put-downable. This is the sort of book to read on a beautiful sunny day so that you don't feel the overwhelming desire to go and hide from the world for just that little bit because the person out there who seems sane and intelligent, might just be completely and utterly viciously deranged.

Not one for looking at the brighter side of humanity for sure but, my word, a thrilling read. I felt it was almost the literary equivalent of Triers' Anti-Christ).
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2.0 out of 5 stars Did not enjoy, 19 Jun 2013
By 
S. A. Broadhurst "SBroadhurst" (Worcester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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I found this book to be very dark and was not able to finish the book. As a book blogger and reviewer, I do not do this lightly, however I did not enjoy the author's writing style. Although the beginning of the book was light it was not long before the book took a dark turn of events including both abuse and incest.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Oh Boy - I just had to read it to find out what happened, 28 Dec 2012
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S2b an OAP "worzelrummage" (East Anglia, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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This novel is written in a style I would not normally choose but I am so glad I started to read it!

This particular dysfunctional family deserve each other (I think) and the narrative moves along at quite a pace. I tried to find something or someone to love but had to settle for areas of empathy instead! One or two of the family may well engender rather more negative emotions. Galen is very tactile especially with a certain part of his body, maybe he should have kept his rather less gentle cousin away from it? His mother may then never have developed her unsettling solution - what do you think?

Once the soil (dirt) in question was in place I really believed that I was 'watching' events unfurl in real time and the sense of foreboding was, to me tangible.

Perhaps we have all had those times when we just wish the world (or an individual in it) would shut up/turn off giving us real time to think.......?

A well written book. I would search out the author (David Vann) again - he is a unique voice and this is a current book (at time of writing) in more ways than one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Straight-down-the-line strong meat, darkly rendered, 21 Sep 2012
By 
Andrew Sutherland "Sutho" (Surrey outposts) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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David Vann's third book is another tale of family violence but this one's a good deal less surreal than Legend of a Suicide (on the strength of which I ordered Dirt). Not that it's easy reading, exactly. On a superficial level, Dirt is a straight-ahead family melodrama, albeit a deeply twisted one. The narrator, Galen, is an introspective twenty-something virgin with an eating disorder and an obsession with Buddhism, Kahlil Gibran and porn mags. He lives with his domineering mother in a dead-end Californian suburb. For some reason she has control of the family fortune and is hoarding it away from him and his cousin (who is coming to visit, alongside his aunt). Dirt revolves around a fantasy in which Galen seeks to dispose of the mother, set against the family's various vicious exchanges and Galen's own mental decline, which Vann renders utterly grippingly, in the same kind of stripped-down prose as in his earlier books. Things start off vaguely comic but get progressively darker until it all ends up pretty brutal. As in... incest and murder. When the action shifts to a log cabin, those familiar with Vann's earlier books will sense what's coming. As the title suggests, you'll want a wash afterwards.
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3.0 out of 5 stars much greyer gardens, 15 Sep 2012
By 
David Spanswick (Brighton United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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This new novel by David Vann explores the claustrophobic relationship between mother and son that put me in mind very much of the documentary "Grey Gardens" about the unknown relations of Jackie Kennedy Big and Little Edie living in a kind of gothic squalor surrounded by fading grandeur, fleas and cats.

The book is not an easy read and since the reader must spend most of the read inside of the head of the protagonist Ga, a misguided but super intelligent "New Age" young man who uses his various skills to manipulate the people in his life ~ remarkably few and all terrifying ~ I felt at times the need to leave the book and shower

The book is very aptly titled, from dust we come and to dust we return. Dirt is just a lot of dust pressed together and Galen seems to express himself through this desolate medium. I have to admire the book as it is so consistently written, can become a compulsive read, though a disturbing one. Not really a holiday book
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