Will Byrnes's Reviews > Legend of a Suicide

Legend of a Suicide by David Vann
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Jan 19, 11

bookshelves: alaska
Read in April, 2010

When David Vann was 13 years old his father committed suicide. This book is Vann’s way of trying to reach out to his dead father, to bring him back to life in a way. Don’t expect a yuck-fest. The book is divided into five short stories and one much longer piece (175 pps).

All are told from the view, if not necessarily in the voice, of a young boy, Vann’s avatar.

In Icthyology – a father’s suicide parallels a boy’s (Roy) interest in fish and his fish tank.

Rhoda tells of the increasing strain between the boy’s father and his wife, the boy’s stepmother. The suicide is implied in this one.

Legend of a Good Man tells of how the boy tries to re-connect with one of the men his mother had dated after his father killed himself.

In Sukkwan Island a divorced father takes his son with him to a remote Alaskan island, intending to live there for a year. Unfortunately he brings along his emotional weakness. I thought that Vann used this one to vent some rage at his lost parent, as dad does not come off too well.

In Ketchikan a grown up Roy returns to Alaska and arranges to see a woman with whom his father betrayed his mother

The final story, Higher Blue, has Vann referring to “the boy” and “the father” a chilling distance-maker in a tale about trying to reconnect, to the memory of his father, at least.

OK, so the subject is a bit of a downer. Don’t be put off. The writing is compelling. I was drawn in, felt for the boy, and even for the hapless father. Vann’s big chunk here, Sukkwan Island, reads like Stephen King, page-turning and frightening.

It is a bit scary, as well, seeing a photo of Vann as a kid with his dad, and then noting how similar to his father the adult writer has become. That he has declined to go to therapy to help cope with the issues that arose from his true-life experiences may leave Vann with a reservoir of unresolved feeling with which to fuel his writing. But I imagine there is a personal cost as well.

Completely aside from the issue of Vann and suicide, you will also learn a bit about Alaska, the physical challenges of the state, the mentality of many of the residents, the way of life lived, or aspired-to by many people up north.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice Great review of an apparently dark book, Will. I have just been thinking, relative to one I'm reading, that for the most part we're blessed to live in uninteresting times/places.


Will Byrnes It definitely could be worse, but then, I expect it will be


message 3: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice That's just like you, Will--ever the optimist! :) May you have a good weekend anyway.


Will Byrnes Thanks, hope I survive it


message 5: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice Usually a prerequisite.


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