Top positive review
a disturbing dark take on a mother-son relationship
on 14 August 2017
This novel reminded me very much of Spider by Patrick McGrath, a slowly unfolding narrative of a boy’s relationship with his mother.
In Spider the story is told from the gradual recollections of a man recently released from an asylum. Here in Dirt we watch the relationship fester between 22 year old Galen and his mother in their secluded house, trapped by their circumstances with little social contact apart from an aunt a niece and ageing grandmother who only feature in the earlier chapters of the novel. Both are thinking of escape but it is the mother who has furtively thought of a way out which when revealed unleashes dramatic consequences of epic proportions.
This is not a novel for the faint hearted as it tackles the timeless themes of familial bonds with a huge sledge hammer albeit with lots of evocative prose attached.
“the water was unbelievably cold but he eased forward and went under……a different world underwater. He was a planet moving in a cold, weightless vacuum. Airless, impersonal with a different relation to light. A thin membrane all that was keeping him alive. He looked around at stone and sand, root and dark earth along the bank all of it expanded and luminous. The trout were all around him. If he could calm enough, he would feel their movement. Trout brothers he thought. I am here with you now.”
The contrasting characters of Galen and his mother, with her needs and his wants utterly mismatched made for a visceral unstoppably destructive relationship. Both want to escape but it becomes clear it is not their home they want to escape from but each other.
Vann creates a character in Galen who finds within nature an attachment and oneness he cannot achieve with human contact. His mother, in turn let down by everyone she has known finds the only solace to be found is within her own company.
With both characters lacking the ability to communicate their fears and desires with words, physical power becomes their voice and a battle emerges where there can be only one victor.