Caribou Island by David Vann

In 2009 I read and reviewed David Vann’s brilliant short-story collection, Legend of a Suicide. It turned out to be a highlight for me that year and I wasn’t shy in singing its praises. I was pleased to have customers returning to me, raving and excited to have had it put in their hands. They felt, as I had, that they had discovered a gifted young author, writing with the maturity of an older American master. It’s no surprise to me that my reading copy of his first novel, Caribou Island, is stamped with a TLS quote, ‘He walks in the tracks of Cormac McCarthy.’

The story begins with Gary and Irene hauling logs out to Caribou Island, Alaska in a fierce storm. These logs are to be used in building a cabin. Irene is hesitant about isolating themselves on the distant patch of wilderness, and leaving behind Rhoda and Mark, their two adult children, but she has been beaten down by a life that’s the product of childhood trauma and 30 years of Gary’s harebrained schemes, of which this is another. Rhoda is concerned as her mother suffers from depression and a mystery illness that could be a figment of her imagination. This comes at a time when Rhoda is feeling a reliance on her mother, as her marriage to local dentist Jim looms nearer. Jim secretly has a different viewpoint on this marriage and an attitude to his relationship with Rhoda that she certainly wouldn’t support. Meanwhile, Mark’s apathetic response to his parents’ situation is driving a deeper wedge between the siblings.

Vann has once again written a powerful and moving tribute to the love of a child for their parent. Although the year is young, I feel that this will be one of my favourites for 2011.

Cover image for Caribou Island

Caribou Island

David Vann

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