Book Review: Caribou Island – David Vann

Title: Caribou Island
Author: David Vann
ISBN: 9780061875724
Pages: 304
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

Comments

  1. OMG, this book was already on my TBR list. I had not read any reviews for it yet. So thanks for the review!

  2. OMG, this book was already on my TBR list. I had not read any reviews for it yet. So thanks for the review!

  3. I think it was Michelle at Reader’s Respite who was saying that the audio production for this one was excellent. I love that cover…it really speaks to the atmosphere in the story.

  4. I think it was Michelle at Reader’s Respite who was saying that the audio production for this one was excellent. I love that cover…it really speaks to the atmosphere in the story.

  5. My review goes up tomorrow. I agree about Vann’s writing – really great but I was glad the novel wasn’t longer because I didn’t think I could stay in that world much longer!
    After reading Sandy’s comment I’m curious about the audiobook – I might check that out.

  6. My review goes up tomorrow. I agree about Vann’s writing – really great but I was glad the novel wasn’t longer because I didn’t think I could stay in that world much longer!
    After reading Sandy’s comment I’m curious about the audiobook – I might check that out.

  7. I am going to be reading this one shortly, and found your review to be not only informative, but thought provoking. It sounds like this is a book that I am going to really like, as sometimes I do really enjoy stories that are a little bit sad and dark. Fantastic review! I will be eager to let you know what I think of it!

  8. I am going to be reading this one shortly, and found your review to be not only informative, but thought provoking. It sounds like this is a book that I am going to really like, as sometimes I do really enjoy stories that are a little bit sad and dark. Fantastic review! I will be eager to let you know what I think of it!

  9. If you are interested, I nominated you for a Stylish Blogger Award.

    Aaron (Dreaming About Other Worlds).

  10. If you are interested, I nominated you for a Stylish Blogger Award.

    Aaron (Dreaming About Other Worlds).

  11. The book sounds good, but building a house would be the last thing I would suggest to try to save a marriage!

  12. The book sounds good, but building a house would be the last thing I would suggest to try to save a marriage!

  13. I’ll admit it, I couldn’t get through this one. There’s no question that Vann is a very talented writer, and the setting is striking. But the characters and plot were just so damn depressing. Might go back to it at some point, but…

    A very good, fair review of the book.

  14. I’ll admit it, I couldn’t get through this one. There’s no question that Vann is a very talented writer, and the setting is striking. But the characters and plot were just so damn depressing. Might go back to it at some point, but…

    A very good, fair review of the book.

  15. Wow — this does sound like a downer. I would have to be in the right mood.

  16. Wow — this does sound like a downer. I would have to be in the right mood.

  17. Skipped down to your last paragraph. I really can’t wait to read this — despair doesn’t bother me.

  18. Skipped down to your last paragraph. I really can’t wait to read this — despair doesn’t bother me.

  19. This sounds like a really challenging read, thought provoking and definitely a little sad.

    Might need to save this for a few days when I am in an up-beat mood, or I suspect it could become a bit depressing.

    I am really into descriptive writing just now, so it will fit the bill nicely.

    Very dramatic cover art as well.

    Yvonne

  20. This sounds like a really challenging read, thought provoking and definitely a little sad.

    Might need to save this for a few days when I am in an up-beat mood, or I suspect it could become a bit depressing.

    I am really into descriptive writing just now, so it will fit the bill nicely.

    Very dramatic cover art as well.

    Yvonne

  21. I’m glad you like this much better than I did. It’s not a book for me, not because it’s depressing (in fact, I probably prefer depressing book to happy books), but because I am much more of a plot driven than a character driven reader.

    My review:
    http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-caribou-island-by-david.html

  22. I’m glad you like this much better than I did. It’s not a book for me, not because it’s depressing (in fact, I probably prefer depressing book to happy books), but because I am much more of a plot driven than a character driven reader.

    My review:
    http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-caribou-island-by-david.html

  23. Vann’s writing really makes this book shine for me…great review, Swapna!

  24. Vann’s writing really makes this book shine for me…great review, Swapna!

Leave a Reply

Comment Policy:  I welcome comments and read each one I receive. If your comment needs a response, I will provide it in a timely manner, as I read every comment I receive. Please keep your comments civil and polite! I reserve the right to delete any comments that are rude or inappropriate. Because of spam, I have to moderate comments on old posts. Please be patient - I will approve your comment quickly.

Before the tag in the Genesis footer: !-- Quantcast Tag -->