Legend Of A Suicide: Book summary and reviews of Legend Of A Suicide by David Vann

Legend Of A Suicide

by David Vann

Legend Of A Suicide by David Vann X
Legend Of A Suicide by David Vann
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2008
    160 pages
    Genre: Short Stories/Essays

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Book Summary

Winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction - In 'Ichthyology,' a young boy watches his father spiral from divorce to suicide. The story is told obliquely, often through the boy's observations of his tropical fish, yet also reveals his father's last desperate moves, including quitting dentistry for commercial fishing in the Bering Sea. Rhoda goes back to the beginning of the father's second marriage and the boy's fascination with his stepmother, who has one partially closed eye. This eye becomes a metaphor for the adult world the boy can't yet see into, including sexuality and despair, which feel like the key initiating elements of the father's eventual suicide. 'A Legend of Good Men' tells the story of the boy's life with his mother after his father s death through the series of men she dates. In 'Sukkwan Island,' an extraordinary novella, the father invites the boy homesteading for a year on a remote island in the southeastern Alaskan wilderness. As the situation spins out of control, the son witnesses his father's despair and takes matters into his own hands. In 'Ketchikan,' the boy is now thirty years old, searching for the origin of ruin. He tracks down Gloria, the woman his father first cheated with, and is left with the sense of a world held in place, as it turned out, by nothing at all. Set in Fairbanks, where the author's father actually killed himself, 'The Higher Blue' provides an epilogue to the collection.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A well-crafted debut collection ... Vann uses startling powers of observation to create strong characters, tense scenes and genuine surprises, leading to a ghastly conclusion that's sure to linger." - Publishers Weekly

"Legend of a Suicide is a series of stories by David Vann, focusing on the collapse of paradise, following its protagonists as they deal with the life around them spiraling out of control and their relationships with the ones responsible. 'Legend of a Suicide' is thought provoking and will give readers much to relate too, making it a gripping read that won't be put down." - The Midwest Book Review

"David Vann's extraordinary and inventive set of fictional variations on his father's death will surely become an American classic." - The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"A powerful new voice has emerged in fiction." - Sunday Times (UK)

"Brilliant ... Vann's prose follows the sinews of Cormac McCarthy and Hemingway, yet has its own nimble flex." - The Times (UK)

"Extraordinary... Reminiscent of Tobias Wolff, Vann's prose is as pure as a gulp of water from an Alaskan stream." - The Financial Times (UK)

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

An amazing debut.
“Watching the dark shadow moving before him, it seemed as this were what he had felt for a long time, that his father was something insubstantial before him and that if he were to look away for an instant or forget or not follow fast enough and will him to be there, he might vanish, as if it were only Roy’s will that kept him there”

Legend of a Suicide is the first book by prize-winning American author, David Vann. It consists of five short stories and a novella. The stories are all connected and describe the relationship of young Roy Fenn with his father Jim, a failed dentist and unsuccessful fisherman who commits suicide when Roy is thirteen. Vann writes from a position of authority, having experienced exactly that with his own father.

While this dark subject forms the centre of the tales, Vann often surrounds it with equally dark humour as he describes the (frequently absurd) incidents of their lives. All this is contained within Vann’s luminous prose: “There had been rain overnight. I remember how strong the dove grass smelled, bitter in my nostrils and throat. I looked up suddenly from the bright ground and everything pulled together, all the strands of cloud and blue air, as if there were a huge drain in the center of the sky that sucked it all up”

The short stories are narrated in the first person by Roy; the novella (Sukkwan Island) is narrated in the third person from the point of view of Roy and Jim, and describe a fateful homestead stay on a remote Alaskan island. Again, some evocative descriptive prose is used: “They watched the sun getting lower. It was so slow they couldn’t see it dropping, but they could see the light changing on the water and on the trees, the shadow behind every leaf and ripple in the sideways light making the world three-dimensional, as if they were seeing trees through a view-finder” is an example.

Vann’s portrayal of the mentally ill father, his rationalisations and choices, is very realistic. Young Roy’s thought processes have a similarly authentic feel. This is a moving, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking tale with a clever twist. An amazing debut.

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Author Information

David Vann Author Biography

Photo: Mathieu Bourgois Agency

David Vann was born in the Aleutian Islands and spent his childhood in Ketchikan, Alaska. He is an internationally bestselling author whose work has been translated into nineteen languages. He is the winner of fifteen prizes, including France's Prix Médicis étranger, Spain's Premi Llibreter, the Grace Paley Prize, a California Book Award, the AWP Nonfiction Prize, and France's Prix des lecteurs de L'Express. His books - Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island, Dirt, A Mile Down, and Last Day on Earth - have appeared on seventy best books of the year lists in a dozen countries. He has written for the Atlantic, Esquire, Outside, Men's Journal, McSweeney's, the Sunday Times, the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph, and many others, and he has appeared in documentaries for the BBC, Nova, ...

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