Friday, February 25, 2011

Caribou Island; David Vann


Title: Caribou Island
Author: David Vann
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Blackstone Audio and Harper Collins
Edition: audio book and ARC 
Reader: Bronson Pinchot
Source: Library (audio) and Publisher (ARC)
Date Completed: 2/23/2011
Setting: Alaska
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommend: Yes

Gary and Irene are a unhappily married couple of 30 plus years. Their marriage in unraveling, now that their two children, Rhoda and Mark, are grown.  Gary, is obsessed about building a cabin from scratch on a remote island  in Alaska, believing that living off the land will bring him the joy that he has long searched for.  Gary is a bitter, angry man with unfulfilled dreams, all of which he blames on his wife Irene. He claims she is the reason he never completed his dissertation in Medieval Studies, and never became a professor. Instead he went along with her idea of a family, and spent much of their marriage supporting the family by fishing and boat building.

Irene, a former teacher knows better. She sees Gary's latest project as just another one of many that will end in failure. She thinks of this idea as "his idiot project -- a 16x12 unheated cabin in the woods".  Irene goes along with the idea grudgingly. She even helps him haul supplies to take over by boat, and haul logs for the cabin in the pouring rain. Irene even suspects that the cabin is Gary's first step to leaving her.

The first paragraph of this debut novel sets the bleak tone for the entire book, and it packs a wallop, as Irene is speaking to her daughter Rhoda.
"My mother was not real. She was an early dream, a hope. She was a place. Snowy, like here, and cold. A wooden house on a hill above a river. An overcast day, the old white paint of the buildings made brighter somehow by the trapped light, and I was coming home from school. Ten years old, walking by myself, walking through dirty patches of snow in the yard, walking up to the narrow porch. I can't remember how my thoughts went then, can't remember who I was or what I felt like. All of that is gone, erased. I opened our front door and found my mother hanging from the rafters. I'm sorry, I said, and I stepped back and closed the door. I was outside on the porch again".
As winter approaches, the cabin is incomplete, Irene becomes ill with severe headaches and other unspecified ailments, and the couple's dislike for one another seems to intensify. Their adult children Rhoda and Mark have their own issues as well. From the very first paragraph, I was confident that this book would end in disaster, and it did. The men are intensely unlikeable in this novel. Gary takes responsibility for nothing. He blames all of his misery on his wife, and their son is a lazy misfit. The women in this novel made me angry as well; they are weak and pathetic. No one learns a thing about themselves after all that has happened to them either.  I had a love/hate relationship with this book. The writing was very very good, and the sense of place was chilling and well established. I loved the way that suspense was building throughout.  Yet, I disliked all of the characters -- they were their own worst enemies.

The audio book was read by Bronson Pinchot who did a great job, but because the tone of the novel was so depressing, listening to the audio got to be a bit much at times, so I switched to the print version after a while.  Do I recommend this book? Yes, but with reservations -- not a book to read if you are feeling a bit depressed.

26 comments:

  1. Dislikable characters and depressing: doesn't sound like a formula for a book I'd like! :--)

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  2. When I first saw this book title and cover, I thought it might be set in Newfoundland or somewhere else in Canada. :-)

    I'm glad to hear it was a good book and even though it's Alaska, not Canada, I may have to give it a try. Thanks for the review!

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  3. I really want to read this. I read Legend of a Suicide and really liked it. It was also centered around a cabin but was very, very dark.

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  4. Hm, this sounds fascinating, but I might need to wait a little while to read it. I've heard Pinchot is a fabulous narrator.

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  5. I think I'd save this one for a bright, spring day. Excellent review, Diane.

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  6. Not sure I would have made it through the book listening to it. I read it (also rated it 4/5 stars). I really liked the writing but wow, so bleak.

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  7. If I dislike all the characters I will find it tough to read the book however good the writing. There is a limit to the dislike I can take!

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  8. I really appreciated your review, but don't think I could take such a downer of a book. Thanks for heading me off at the pass, Diane!

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  9. This book sounds amazing! I've been seeing it around but wasn't sure if it's for me. Your review has me curious now. I think I should bump it up in my TBR!

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  10. I think this book would send me into a downward spiral!

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  11. I wasn't going to read this because of the depressing nature of the book. But since you mentioned it's in audio that might work for me. I usually listen to an audio book over a week or so. Might be ok in small doses.

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  12. I'm hearing such good things about this one. How interesting that Balky (what was the name of that sitcom Bronson Pinchot was in?) is the narrator!

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  13. Hey, this is on my wish list! Thanks for the review.

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  14. The book does seem very depressing but I would really like to read it. Since you rated it 4 stars , I am interested in the book. Thanks for the review!

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  15. gosh, I have read the beginning of this book...it must have been a preview because I don't think that I own it. perhaps I need to correct that.

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  16. I am okay with books where I hate all the characters -- The Corrections comes to mind -- I just don't like books where the characters don't make me react either positively or negatively. I like your suggestion about the audio -- I like having the printed version when I'm listening, as I like switching back and forth, like you did here. Great review :)

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  17. You amaze me. You always finish a book whether you like it or not. I cannot read a book if I do not like the characters. Gary sounds likes my ex-husband. He cannot take personal responsibility and wants to blame everyone else for his lack of education. I will be sure to stay away from this one.

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  18. I wonder how the Caribous feel about this one?

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  19. I don't know if I want to read a downer right now ... seeing our Cdn winters are miserable at times. Will wait for the summer to kick in to read this one. Great review again :)

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  20. I will remember your words and maybe read this one in the summer when the sun is shining and I'm not in the doldrums!! It is one that I want to read though!

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  21. This is a book I want to read. I've gone back and forth on it but the more I see of it the more I want to try it for myself. I'm ok with bleak once in a while.

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  22. This sounds intense! And it says a lot about the power of the narrator to have you switch to the book. Think I will put this on the TBR list and make a note to read it and not listen to it.

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  23. This sounds really good. I like books like this.

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  24. I have this one up for review soon, and am distressed that it's so dark and foreboding. I sometimes like to read accounts of troubled marriages, for example I really got a lot out of Revolutionary Road, for a host of reasons, but right now I am going through some things that might make this book an unwelcome presence in my life. Thanks for the unflinching honesty of your review.

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  25. Hmmm...part of me is attracted to this book because of your description (perverse, I know!) but I think I would really need to be in the right frame of mind.

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  26. I had the exact reaction to the printed version - a recommended book but it is very depressing. I definitely don't know if I could listen to it! Such a sad one. I did like it, though.

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