Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Review - Caribou Island by David Vann

Title: Caribou Island
Author: David Vann
Year: 2011
Page: 304
Genre: Fiction - Literary

FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from HarpersCollins

Summary (from
The prize-winning author of Legend of a Suicide delivers his highly anticipated debut novel.

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unraveling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary's old dream, they're hauling logs to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to build the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place.

But this island is not right for Irene. They are building without plans or advice, and when winter comes early, the overwhelming isolation of the prehistoric wilderness threatens their bond to the core. Caught in the emotional maelstrom is their adult daughter, Rhoda, who is wrestling with the hopes and disappointments of her own life. Devoted to her parents, she watches helplessly as they drift further apart.

Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest, Caribou Island captures the drama and pathos of a husband and wife whose bitter love, failed dreams, and tragic past push them to the edge of destruction. A portrait of desolation, violence, and the darkness of the soul, it is an explosive and unforgettable novel from a writer of limitless possibility.

First Sentence:
My mother was not real.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • When HarperCollins asked if I wanted to review any January release (this book will be released on 1/18/11), I debated whether to get this one or not. This book is not usually my genre, but I liked this description - "brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest"- I like honest novels, and I like that this story seems a bit dark (I don't usually prefer happy ending books). Sometimes when I don't like a particular genre, I always wonder if I just hadn't read the right book yet... so every so often, I'd give it a try again, especially since my reading taste have changed a bit in the past few years
First thought:
  • Where are all the quotation marks? 
Cover Art:
  • Very pretty, I love the colors. Something I'd hang a print of at home. After I read the book, it captures the mood the story very well.
  • Indifferent. Title alone doesn't capture my interest, but well, the story is set on "Caribou Island" so can't say it doesn't relate to the story. I guess I just like books with clever, witty titles better
  • I guess others would describe Vann's writing as beautiful, poetic... but it's not really for me. It's too flowery and descriptive for my taste. I guess that's why I usually am not interested in this genre...
  • The positive of such writing though, is that I can "play the movie" in my head as I read the book. But it's a slow moving movie...
  • Vann also did not use quotation marks in his dialog! This bugged me, as it made the story much harder to read - who is saying what, what is being said, what are actual thoughts but not said out loud... I had the same problem with The Road by Cormac McCarthy 
  • Actual plot itself can be summarized in a few sentences (but I won't, don't want to give spoilers). For someone who likes more action driven story, this isn't it
  • This is definitely a character driven story - it is more about their relationships to each other, but it just wasn't satisfying to me. Didn't have any ah-ha moments.
  • There were basically 8 characters in the book - Irene and her husband Gary, their children Rhoda and Mark, and their significant others (Jim and Karen, respectively), and Mark's friends, Carl and Monique
  • I don't like any of them. I don't like their personalities, and don't know why their signification others stay with them. They are realistic, but I feel that while the characters are described well "in the present", it didn't have a lot of development to tell us why they turned out they way the are
  • While it did tell a little bit of Irene's past, it was a bit too superficial to explain her actions
  • If I really had to choose a favorite character, it was probably the daughter Rhoda. I felt bad for her but there wasn't anything about her personality that made her stood out
  • I could definitely see the ending coming - while I wasn't 100% certain, but there was no surprise 
  • Some said it is a depressing book - it wasn't a happy story, but didn't make me depressed or too sad... I am not cold-hearted, but the characters chose their paths and I guess sometimes I just didn't have a lot of sympathies for those who won't help themselves and just blamed others for what happened to them 
  • I think for those who like The Road by Cormac McCarthy (writing style wise) would enjoy this author's style. The story actually reminded me a bit of Shadow Tag by Lousie Erdrich (my review here) - so if you like that book, you'll probably like this too. I liked Shadow Tag a bit more because I liked the children in the book
Read this Author again?
  • Probably not... I just prefer non-character driven novels and don't like anything too descriptive

Irene followed because once she had endured she could punish. Her turn would come. And this is what they had done to each other for decades now, irresistibly. Fine, she would think. Fine. And that meant, just wait. (p5)

Because you can choose who you'll be with, but you can't choose who they'll become. (p101)

Overall Rating: 2 Stars - Not Really For Me... But Others May Like It

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1 comment:

  1. Hmm.. I was pretty curious about this book. It isn't my usual genre either, but since I kept coming across it, I thought maybe I should consider it. I guess not.