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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking experimental journey
I'd read a lot of buzz about Legend Of A Suicide prior to reading it, and then fell across it in a second hand bookshop in Camden last weekend. I have a belief in the synchronicity of chance, and, for a book that you intend to read to appear in a second hand shop you happen to visit, makes it seem like its "there for you". Like you're supposed to read it somehow...
Published on 30 April 2012 by R. A. Davison

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars False Advertising?
Although I enjoyed the style(s) in which these stories were written, I must say that upon finishing the book my first thought was "huh?". Not since I drunkenly decided to watch Donnie Darko had I felt so confused.

To me at least, there are two main problems with this novel/novella/collection of novels. The first of these is the way in which it has been...
Published on 22 Nov 2011 by pacin07


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking experimental journey, 30 April 2012
By 
R. A. Davison (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
I'd read a lot of buzz about Legend Of A Suicide prior to reading it, and then fell across it in a second hand bookshop in Camden last weekend. I have a belief in the synchronicity of chance, and, for a book that you intend to read to appear in a second hand shop you happen to visit, makes it seem like its "there for you". Like you're supposed to read it somehow.

There's a lot to be said about 'Legend Of A Suicide'. Not really a novel, more 4 vignettes with a novella in the middle, it is initially difficult to engage with, and is definitely an experiment in form and storytelling, even at the end Roy and his father Jim maintain a kind of impenetrable mystique as characters. The bulk of the story concerns Roy going to live with his father in a remote corner of Alaska, in a kind of survivalist scenario whereby they live self-sufficiently without contact with the outside world. The beating heart of this story is the crushing weight of responsibility and burden of guilt on Roy, who suddenly finds himself pretty much a caretaker to his increasingly unstable and unpredictable father. The prose has good descriptive passages bleak, stark, conveying well the oppressive solitude of their location and forced togetherness. It reminded me both of Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast and Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, two other novels concerning fathers who drag their children into ill advised and dangerous territory to suit their own ideals and needs. The scene in which Roy's father begins to relate intimate details of his sex life to his child makes you squirm for the terrible predicament Roy has been placed in and wonder why on earth his mother let him go there.

I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who might read the book after reading this review and so I can only say, that after I had presumed I knew exactly where this novel was taking me in all respects I had my mind officially blown by this novel in the middle third. What really makes this novel an experience is the knowledge that David Vann's father committed suicide in real life, and as you read this fictionalized story you realize you are reading Vann's "dark night of the soul" laid bare. It is incredibly courageous of him to bring this story to paper, was no doubt hugely difficult to write and whilst doubtless cathartic he has allowed every person who reads this to truly see the inner workings of his psychological reaction, not through fact, "this is what happened and this is how I felt" but subtly, through fictionalised prose. It is no Dave Pelzer or similar story of "my terrible childhood" which populate the shelves of every supermarket. You grieve and ache for Vann, because you realise through your own thought process without being instructed why he is telling you this other story, the place that it has come from within him. It's art, really.

Which isn't to say it is flawless, there are ways that I feel it let itself down, it could be dull in parts and its really all about the middle third with the writing either side lacking the same quality or punch, though the end has some nice lines. It is however totally worth reading for the excellent Sukkwan Island section which has so much to say about so many important things, fatherhood, despair, revenge, legacy, psychology and anger and is both an important addition to literature on the topic and through its experimental style to literature as a whole. 9/10
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring a wound through fiction, 21 Jun 2010
By 
P. Durrant (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
This is a short, startling and superbly written debut novel. A fictional exploration of the suicide of the author's father, the book boldly and graphically picks through the sediment of tragedy as it continues to shape the life of one left in aftermath. The book is made up of five self-contained yet interrelated short stories, which hinge around a central narrative about a doomed father-and-son trip into the wilderness - literally and pyschologically. There is a ratcheting, subterranean sense of dread throughout, which erupts into a highly and genuinely shocking twist that left me reeling for several days. Perhaps not a good one for the faint of heart, but a highly gripping read and one executed with brutal honesty and disturbing tenderness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book, 26 May 2011
This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
This is an amazing read - like nothing you might expect from a memoir/novel. The author takes you to places you would never expect as he explores the complex relationship between father and son. Gripping stuff, and with a twist that was the best I've read this year. Strongly recommend!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic middle with bookends, 15 Dec 2009
This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
Legend of a Suicide is a series of short stories that deal with suicide, both its impacts and its causes. By far the most successful section of the book is the middle pair of linked stories that detail a father and son struggling to survive in self imposed exile in Alaska. The tension in this section is overwhelming: there are so many potential dangers queuing up to attack our protagonists that it is merely a question of which will arrive next. That a genuine shock arrives as the most disruptive event is impressive, and even more so as almost every reader seems to know there is something coming. However, the short spells of calm bring just as much to the table, as this is when we get to really enjoy the characters and their glorious setting.
As many reviewers have noted, the author's life was clearly hugely important to the writing of this novel, but the same can be said of almost any work, it is just more painfully obvious here. In truth, the novel needs to stand in isolation, and it does. The only exception to this seems to be in the shared names in the minor tales that surround the Alaska story. The seemingly distinct but still similar characters add little, other than confusion. Ultimately, these rather light additions pale in comparison to the more weighty middle, and are the bit you'll have forgotten in a few months. Each tale manages to paint at least one vivid image (though one is rather too kitsch and contrived for my liking), but Alaska overpowers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Legend of the written word, 10 Dec 2009
By 
N. Byrne (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
I'm not with the reviewer who labels this book 'arch' and suffering from 'creativewritingitis'. Surely it has the potential to be these things, but I felt that it doesn't stray too far into these areas, otherwise I would imagine it could have been twice as long as it is. The fact that it is a relatively short book, but no less powerful for that, and the fact that I read it in one day, speaks volumes, I believe, for the skill of the author and his refusal to wallow in too much self pity or indeed therapy laced reflections, and so-called 'creativewritingitis'.

Instead we have several chapters or stories (admittedly some published separately and having as a central theme the suicide of the author's father), that although quite obviously the product of perhaps some creative writing workshops over the years, have an economy of style and an honesty of reflection that are only to the betterment of the book as a whole.

I am finding it hard to write a 'critique' of this book without having to discuss too much in detail the much longer and middle story in this book without giving away what happens, or shall we say the intended 'shock' of the turning point at the end of part one of the longer story. I will admit I found this 'development' a little hard to swallow, purely within the context of how the story had been built up to that point, but when taken in the context of the book as a whole, and keeping in mind the author's obvious intention to face up to his own personal tragedy by writing this book, I subsequently found it to be a brave and mature imagining of the effects of suicide that the author has plainly been dealing with for most of his life. Part two of the longer story in particular vividly, if fancifully, depicts the desperation and madness that grief can produce.

In pure terms of writing style or technique even, the whole thing is naturally well paced (the shorter stories and the short format of the book on the whole being a factor here but also the innate economy of the writing style), and generally there isn't an over indulgence of inward reflection or of trying to find the most original or Oprah-book-club-friendly simile. For a lot of the narrative, the actions and words of the characters speak volumes in themselves, and the sparse and obviously experienced descriptions of Alaska's wild and savage beauty place the action in an area that is at once boundless and full of possibility but at the same time constricted and frustrating, like the proverbial goldfish bowl, and indeed symbolic of the father's own dreams and frustrations.

I found it interesting that the author mentions the influence of Cormac McCarthy in his Acknowledgments, for I thought myself when reading the long middle story in particular that it was very reminiscent of McCarthy's style. I can't say I am overly familiar with the other writers he mentions (apart from reading Tobias Wolff's 'This Boy's Life') but other, better read reviewers have picked up on their influence.

I would recommend this book to anyone. I wouldn't wax quite so lyrical as some of the reviews on the cover but it is definitely a superior piece of writing to what is usually gushed over by the critics.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars False Advertising?, 22 Nov 2011
This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
Although I enjoyed the style(s) in which these stories were written, I must say that upon finishing the book my first thought was "huh?". Not since I drunkenly decided to watch Donnie Darko had I felt so confused.

To me at least, there are two main problems with this novel/novella/collection of novels. The first of these is the way in which it has been marketed. Simply put, I would have enjoyed this more had I known going in that this was a collection of stories revolving around a central theme or themes. Unfortunately, the marketers seem to have gone out of their way to hide this fact. READ THIS BOOK AS A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES AND YOU'LL ENJOY IT MORE. Sorry for shouting there, just trying to save you from a state of confusion, frantic back-tracking to earlier pages and the sneaking feeling you've been duped.

The other main issue I have with this book is that some of the stories simply aren't as strong as others and the ordering seems a little mixed up. After the memorable brutality of frozen Alaska, the following two stories that serve as the footnote to the collection are frankly unmemorable and to be honest, seem a little tacked on to bulk up the page numbers.

Legend of a Suicide
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointing Read, 4 Sep 2013
By 
Herman Norford "Keen Reader" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
I recall very well the publication of David Vann's Legend of a Suicide in 2008. It came with a big bang. Back then one got the impression that the critics were rushing to the podium to sing the novel's praise. As a result of all the high accolade, the novel found its way on my long, long reading list and it has taken me some 5 years to get around to reading it. Let me say I have no regrets in not giving the novel greater priority and reading it earlier. The novel has some moments where it becomes emotionally engaging but the sum of those moments does not add up to a whole great novel as was made out back in 2008.

Born on one of the remote islands of Alaska, Roy is brought up by his parents, Jim and Elizabeth, who eventually divorce. Roy has a spell living with each of his parents. Whilst with his mother he endures a number of his mother's many boyfriends. Roy also suffers from the relationship between his father and a second wife. However, the crux of the story occurs when Roy goes on an ill thought out adventure or trek with his father on Sukkwan Island. This is almost like an initiation or rite of passage for Roy but for his father it is an ill conceived opportunity to put all his troubles behind and start afresh.

The novel is structured by means of six short stories with connecting themes and issues that bind them together to make a novel. One of the interesting things about the novel is its narration and the sequencing of time. Vann begins with a first person narrator, autobiographical style, through the voice of Roy. Roy narrates the dynamics of his family's relationships and by the end of chapter 1 Roy's father has shot himself. In chapter 4 the story is taken up by a third person narrator who outlines the events of an adventure into the cold wilderness of Alaska. From here on the novel commands concentration and close attention as there are no speech quotation marks, the time sequence of major events is inverted and one is left with the impression that the major events are being looked at from another perspective, opposed to that of Roy who begins with the first person narration.

The prospective reader might think that the above can only add to what should be an interesting and gripping read. For me it did not make for an interesting read. The substantial chapter of the book is rendered with repetitive and tedious description of father and son taking hikes into the Alaskan wilderness, fishing and shooting. Further Roy's father, Jim, is prone to mistakes one of which leads to a major tragedy. I found myself over burdened by the consequences of Jim's mistakes rather than being sympathetic with Jim's character.

However, as the events are presented from the second perspective there is a twist in the story which opens up the scope for engaging with the novel. To some extent that twist in the story is disturbing and it provides for a shift from tedious description to pathos. At this stage, somewhat a little late, the novel comes alive but although Legend of a Suicide is a short novel it felt like a long wait for this shift. What also clearly emerges with this shift is the novel's main themes such as father and son relationship, the overwhelming burden of loss, the ability to endure and survive hardships and the act of remembrance. There is a wonderful brief testimony of the theme of memory that runs: "Memories are infinitely richer than their origins, I discovered, to travel back can only estrange one even from memory itself. And because memory is often all that a life or self is built on, returning home can take away exactly that."

After all the hype 5 years ago, I came to read this novel with great expectation. However, for me the novel did not live up to the hype. As mentioned above the novel has it moments when it reaches a great peak and engaged me but overall it was a disappointment.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, 24 Jan 2010
By 
Mrs. R. M. Lee (Berkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
This book got me by the throat and didn't let go. It's a curious mixture of memoir, fiction and fictionalised memoir. A novella which is book-ended by short stories. I didn't mind the shifts from first person to third person narrative, and the shifts in perspective - the writing is so compelling.( I was reminded of Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life). The central novella is dark and relentless and impossible to put down. A heart-stopping moment almost made me cry out in shock. It's like watching a car crash in slow motion. You know it must end badly but you can't stop reading. Slightly marred by occasional over-writing and curiously missing some details (how, where, did the boy and his father - trying to homestead with insufficient stores and skills on a remote Alaskan island - wash?) But this is a book I will read again. And it's one of the best I've read all year.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex and intriguing novel containing much to provoke the thought processes, 23 Oct 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
I greatly enjoyed reading David Vann's Legend of a Suicide for it is an unusual book which provides a lot of insight into the painful journeys which must be taken to come to terms with the tragedies that can hit families and leave them reeling for years to come. The book is thought provoking and leads the reader in to some deep territories where things may or may not be as they seem, and readers are left to draw whatever conclusions they can from the intriguing chain of events.

The title of this book is interesting. Clearly it is about suicide, or more specifically a suicide, but why "legend" rather than say, "story" or perhaps "memoir"? And the main character, Jim Fenn: why is this name so similar to David Vann's own father, James Vann? In fact, we learn from the acknowledgements at the back of this book that David Vann is in fact writing about his father's suicide, and that the stories are fictional but "based on a lot that's true".

The thing about a legend is that it may or may not be true. Its something which has achieved an almost mythical status so I think we can say that David Vann's stories will go beyond the mere recounting of facts and will probe into the deeper meaning of his father's death, its long term effects and its outworking in the lives of those he left behind.

At first this book appears to be a single text, a continuum, but again in the acknowledgements at the back, David Vann thanks his graduate school tutors for helping him see "how the stories might become a book". And in fact we have here four linked short stories and one novella which together tell a sort of myth about the terrible events which happened to Vann when he was a young boy.

The first story, which is only 10 pages long appears to be a straightforward description of the events leading up to Jim Fenn's death, setting the scene of marital break-up, serious money problems, mid-life crises and mental problem, culminating in a shocking outcome. This may (or may not be) the basic story on which others are built, but straight-away the chronology starts to break down for the next story, "Rhoda" chronicles a short period which the young Roy (perhaps a.k.a. David) spent with his father and his new step-mother.

The story, "Legend of Good Men" seems to be a couple of years after the shocking events which opened the book, when Roy's mother is dating various men. Once more, the story is stuffed full of guns and culminates in Roy blowing being taken with a sudden fit of madness. Is it a characteristic feature of American books that guns are described in such detail? We read of .300 Magnums, .22 caliber rifles, Winchester carbines. Ruger .44s etc etc. Guns are so alien to most British people that while these names are totemic to an American, they mean little to us other than vague references in American movies.

I would say the section on Sukkwan island is the most important section of this book, and forms a substantial novella in itself. I think we can say that this is how a 15 year old boy gets back at his deceased father, by imagining a horrendous and gruesome set of events, slightly reminiscent of one of Stephen King's stories. I have no intention of spoiling this section for other people. Suffice it to say that Roy and his father go so spend the winter on a remote Alaskan island. In this section we see the utter irresponsibility of a suicidal father, his disregard for the well-being of those around him, and the terrible ways in which his decisions work out in the lives of others. It is a painful and shocking read, but also totally compelling. We read this section and it helps us understand the others - if the son's retribution is so terrible, then the events which provoked it must have been truly traumatic at a level we cannot understand unless we experience them ourselves.

The last section tires to get back to the root causes of his father's situation. Long after his death, the writer delves into the root causes of his father's disharmony by visiting an Alaskan town he lived in and attempting to re-connect with one of the key figures in his life. But things are not as expected. People change and find their own destiny, which seems to be very unconnected with the events they were involved in so long ago. The writer leaves the town without the resolution he sought.

I hope that writing this book has enabled David Vann to come to terms with the event that shaped him. The book is certainly an tumultuous journey for his readers and should I hope achieve some status as a novel significant as much for its insights as for its dramatic content.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dissenting verdict, 16 Feb 2010
By 
emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
This book is beautifully written, and, as lots of reviewers have noted, the central novella is really powerful. But I don't quite understand how the whole totality fits together as a novel. I really felt quite disappointed on finishing it. The tale of a young man whose father committed suicide is told several different ways, and all of them are strong, but the book didn't actually hang together as a single work, for me. There isn't enough linking material for it to make sense. It felt to me like I was reading something not quite finished. Perhaps the real life tragedy upon which the work is based finally defeated David Vann's efforts to capture and make sense of it?

The writing is gorgeous though, and compares to other beautiful books of the American outdoors, such as Cormac McCarthy, mentioned by several others; it also made me think of A River Runs Through It. Really fantastic writing, and I would read another by him.
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Legend of a Suicide
Legend of a Suicide by David Vann (Paperback - 29 Oct 2009)
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