Title: Caribou Island
Author: David Vann
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Set in a remote part of Alaska, Caribou Island is the story of one family that is slowly falling apart at the seams. Irene and Gary are trying to give their marriage one last chance by building a cabin together on Caribou Island, but their problems with each other and themselves might be too much to cope with. Their grown daughter Rhoda is dating a man who doesn’t appreciate her, and feels helpless in the face of her parents’ unraveling marriage. This stark novel portrays the beauty and devastation of two people who no longer can see one another.
Caribou Island is a beautifully written and haunting portrait at a marriage that has run its course. Irene and Gary are really a sad couple. They resent each other so much for perceived slights and insults over the years that they can’t see what they have done to their marriage. Gary secretly thinks he could have done better than Irene all those years ago, while Irene blames Gary for having so few friends left – she feels he drove all of them away.
The setting is an integral part of the novel. Though they are on this beautiful island with the vastness of Alaska around them, they cannot see past their frustration with one another. As a result, the entire novel has a claustrophobic nature. Neither Irene nor Gary are particularly likeable, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of the book. It makes Caribou Island all the more interesting, to watch everything unravel when there is little emotional connection to the characters.
The writing in Caribou Island is beautiful and haunting, and serves to underscore the stark nature of the novel. Vann’s prose elucidates the themes of the novel well – hurting and loving (and the interaction of those two, when we try to hurt the ones we claim to love), the difficulty of life after it has been touched by suicide, and marriage without intimacy. It’s a very thought provoking book.
Caribou Island is an interesting look at marital deterioration. It’s a pleasure to read simply for the prose, but the nature of the book means that it is difficult at times. This isn’t a novel to pick up if you are looking for a happy ending; instead, if you are looking for the beauty in despair and destruction, this is a great book to pick up.