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Review: Caribou Island

Caribou Island

Caribou Island
By David Vann
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061875724, January 2011, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

The path from normalcy to insanity is literally a mere boat ride away.

The Rest of It:

Gary and Irene have been married for 30 years. Their marriage is falling apart but they are held together by a very thin thread. When Gary decides to build a log home on the small island of Caribou,  located on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Irene sees it for what it is. Their last chance to make the marriage work, or a sign that it will never work and that they have failed miserably. What takes Gary sometime to realize, Irene has already realized and partially accepted.

While they are trying to put this cabin together, Gary and Irene’s grown daughter, Rhonda has problems of her own. She is dating Jim, a dentist. He’s well-off, successful and safe. But Jim has his own secrets. As Rhonda ponders what is going on with her parents, she can’t help but think about her own relationship.

These are troubled times.

This is not a happy story. There are no happy people here. In fact, what you have are miserable characters who are wrought with loneliness. So lonely, that being together is better than being apart and trust me, these people should be apart. As depressing as this all sounds, and it does get rather depressing here and there, the story is very compelling. Vann’s writing is lovely and sad and brutally honest. It’s scratchy and raw and there were times when I was uncomfortable reading, but only because Gary and Irene’s story seemed so real. You know how it is when you are with a couple who is fighting? How you try to ignore the tension yet it’s impossible to do so? That’s how it was for me reading this book. The tension is everywhere, yet I couldn’t put it down.

Halfway through the story, I knew where the story was heading, but in no way did it prepare me for what actually happened. I reached that last page and the air was sucked right out of me. I had read Vann’s Legend of a Suicide and had a similar feeling when I finished that one but these characters seemed more real…as if they could be people I know. That made it more personal to me and what marriage hasn’t seen trouble every now and then? The images that Vann created are still floating around in my head today.

Caribou Island is a moving account of a marriage gone wrong and although it’s bleak, it’s very thought-provoking and Vann does wonderful things with the setting. You don’t enjoy a story like this, but you experience it and appreciate it on a different level.  Vann is a very talented writer and at this point, I’d read anything by him.

Note from Ti: I also listened to this on audio afterward and it’s great on audio as well.

Source: Borrowed

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