Review & Book Tour: Legend of a Suicide

Legend of a Suicide Book Cover

Legend of a Suicide
By David Vann
Harper Perennial
March 2010

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

In Legend of a Suicide, his heartbreaking semi-autobiographical debut story-collection, David Vann relates the story of a young man trying to come to terms with the guilt and pain of his father’s suicide. The wild outback of the author’s native Alaska acts as the ideal backdrop for this collage of six stories—a novella and five shorts—and mirrors the author’s own psychological wilderness.

The Short of It:

Legend of a Suicide is like a drop of water upon a smooth, glassy lake. Small, concentric circles that eventually grow in size as they ripple across the water. Beautiful in one sense, slightly disturbing in another but all in all, an unforgettable read.

The Rest of It:

Legend of a Suicide is collection of stories. One novella, and five shorter stories. Although they are separate and some were even published independently of the others, they still have a common theme; the relationship between a father and his son.

As the publisher’s blurb indicates, this collection is semi-autobiographical in that the author’s father did commit suicide but much of what happens in each story is fictionalized. This is true particularly for the novella, which is quite touching and shocking at the same time.

Vann does an exceptional job with setting. Nearly all of the stories take place in his native Alaska, so there is much to love. The writing makes you feel as if you’re there and considering the fact that I’ve never visited Alaska, I was quite impressed with how beautiful and true these passages seemed. I could smell the rain and feel the mist and taste the salt in the air. Vann’s writing is extremely lush.

Each story is carefully written. The characters are well-developed, the dialogue realistic but after reading the novella, I was relieved in one sense but felt totally violated in another. I won’t discuss what happens within the novella, but I was so completely absorbed in it, that when I realized what had taken place, I felt a tad violated. As if someone had taken advantage of me and then left me feeling all used up.

I grew up with parents that were/are clinically depressed. The guilt that I felt as a child over not being able to make them happy, ate me up and created scars that will never fade. It’s clear that David Vann experienced much of the same pain. The guilt that a child feels over losing a parent to suicide cannot be measured. It’s ongoing and overwhelming to consider. These stories clearly share that pain with us.

Legend of a Suicide is not a fun read. It’s not the kind of book to curl-up with, hot cocoa in hand, cat at your side. BUT, it’s beautifully written and although haunting at times and even a bit graphic, the images have stayed with me and I would definitely recommend it.

Photo of David Vann

To visit David Vann’s website, click here.

To view Vann’s other TLC tour stops, click here.

Source: A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour and to the publisher,  for providing me with a review copy of the book.

12 thoughts on “Review & Book Tour: Legend of a Suicide”

  1. Ti, I agree with JoAnn – love your short of it piece. Great idea and helpful to anyone who hasn’t started the book yet.

    I put this book down last night and I’m not sure if I’m going to pick it back up or not. I got really, really queasy during the second half of the section at the cabin in Alaska. Once the father broke in to the other cabin, I couldn’t read any longer. If I do pick it up, I may skip to the end oft that section. I just couldn’t take it any longer.

    That being said, I really got invested in this novel when Roy went with his father to the cabin. I felt so bad for him. I want to know how it ends, but I don’t think I could handle the father’s depressive state any longer under those circumstances.

    Great review, Ti!

    1. That is exactly the point where I felt violated and used up. Keep reading. If you skip to the first story after that novella you’ll be able to pick it up again, no problem.

  2. I’m sorry to hear that this book resonated so much with you. And it does sound like you need to be in a certain mental space to read it … or have a lighter book to balance it out.

    And your review was beautifully written … I love the imagery of the ripples on the water.

  3. ti, this sounds like a tough but good read. i loved your short synopsis–so vivid. as for growing up in a situation like yours, i can’t even imagine. i must say that your sunny comments and smile always make me feel happy.

    great review–i enjoy this genre and will be looking for it shortly.

  4. You and Jennifer have really got me thinking about this one. You felt violated? Jennifer had to stop reading? That is some seriously heavy stuff. As I said over at Jennifer’s review, I felt like this when reading We Need to Talk About Kevin. It was just plain UGLY dragging myself through the last hundred pages of that one. I felt sick. My heart raced. I was angry, I wanted to cry. Still, it will always stick with me. I guess that is the sign of a good writer!

  5. Just finished and posted on this one and really enjoyed it. Especially like your share here about your own parents as it parallels Vann’s own experience, and lends another layer of understanding to the grief, and as you suggest guilt, that he seeks to exorcise here. It was a difficult but ultimately rewarding read for me.

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