Legend of a Suicide

David Vann

Legend of a Suicide
Penguin Books Ltd
United Kingdom
28 September 2009

Legend of a Suicide

David Vann

Revolving around a fatally misconceived adventure deep in the wilderness of Alaska, this is a remarkably tender story of loss, survival and disillusioned love.

Roy is still young when his father, a failed dentist and hapless fisherman, puts a .44 magnum to his head and commits suicide on the deck of his beloved boat. Throughout his life, Roy returns to that moment, gripped by its memory and the shadow it casts over his small-town boyhood, describing with poignant, mercurial wit his parents’ woeful marriage and inevitable divorce, their kindnesses and weaknesses, the absurd and comic turning-points of his past. Finally, in Legend of a Suicide, Roy lays his father’s ghost to rest. But not before he exacts a gruelling, exhilarating revenge.

Revolving around a fatally misconceived adventure deep in the wilderness of Alaska, this is a remarkably tender story of survival and disillusioned love.


Legend of a Suicide, which seems to be loosely based on the author’s own father’s death, wasn’t going to be a joyous read – but David Vann has crafted this tragic event into a beautifully melancholic collection of five short stories and a novella.

Each story involves the same characters, a young man named Roy and his father Jim who, in each piece, has either committed suicide, or is in the process of doing so. It’s almost as if each tale takes place in a parallel universe from the last, Roy being forced to endure Jim’s failures recurrently, with differing conclusions, albeit with the same scenario or variation on the theme. The isolation of Alaska is the setting for most of the stories and maybe because of this, feature an unhealthy love of firearms, but the candid use of violence towards nature builds tension and foreboding between the two male characters and what is to come, or what has come to be. In particular, the novella Sakkwan Island in which Jim, by way of reconciliation, takes his troubled son to live in the wilderness, is some of the most devastating fiction that I have read in a while. This is a brilliant work by an author to keep an eye on.

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