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Legend of a Suicide
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Legend of a Suicide

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,534 ratings  ·  333 reviews
Roy is still young when his father, a failed dentist and hapless fisherman, puts a .44 magnum to his head and commits suicide on the deck of his beloved boat. Throughout his life, Roy returns to that moment, gripped by its memory and the shadow it casts over his small-town boyhood, describing with poignant, mercurial wit his parents' woeful marriage and inevitable divorce, ...more
Paperback, 228 pages
Published October 29th 2009 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 2008)
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3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,534 ratings  ·  333 reviews

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Will Byrnes
May 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alaska
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 bet
Dec 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
This is an extremely confusing book. I feel the need to put the warning out there that this book is short stories not a novel. Except it is all short stories about the same person. Except that the stories insist on contradicting each other. Do not try to figure out when the suicide happened you will undoubtedly drive yourself crazy. Do not try to figure out who is who. Do not under any circumstances question the narration. And then when you finish all this ignore everything I have said throw out ...more
Jun 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
"A father is a lot for a thing to be." What a coincidence to have finished this fantastic, brutal, transformative book over Father's Day weekend.

As a reader, there are certain plotlines and motifs that I am very moved by. These include the following:

a.) animals and the gentleness of nature
b.) the terse affection between fathers and sons
c.) the tragedy of inherited depression
d.) the personal archaeology & myth-making that begins and never ends when one you love commits suicide

This book works
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A moving story of a wanting releationship between a father and his son. They both wish for a lot of things the other is not and tend to forget about the real other person.
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Check out my interview with David Vann in August 2012 >>
David Vann will take you by the hand and into an abyss, a dark and poignant walk into relationships. Powerful, potent quality of meaning and what had been and a stark warning on that which one can prevent treading upon the same path mentioned within these pages.
This is a story that a reader should not disappointed if they find not a happy Disney like ending. It's raw at times but h
Oct 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the postscript to this astoundingly original book, David Vann quotes Grace Paley in saying that “every line in fiction has to be true. It has to be a distillation of experience more true to a person’s life than any moment he or she has actually lived.”

Through that definition, Legends of a Suicide is a true book. James Edward Vann – the author’s father – did, indeed, kill himself when David was only 13. But the circumstances described here are that of mythology – a real-world event that is ima
Nov 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
The novella at the heart of the book is worth six stars, while the framing stories, while essential, don't quite cut it for me; they feel a little too mediated by the influence of some of Vann's heroes and mentors, such as Tobias Wolff. So the rating averages out as four (I'd give it four and a half if I could.) But the book as a whole is absolutely worth your time.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very strong first book for a new publisher in Poland. Vann is very cautious with his words but is able to hit the reader right in the gut. Using simple and few words he is able to create striking images that will stay with you for a long time (the aquarium!). This is hard read emotionally, that will leave you with some chaos but can also provide katharsis.
Mar 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
“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
David Hebblethwaite
Oct 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide is one of those books that takes concepts like ‘novel’ and ‘short story collection’, tears them up into tiny pieces, and leaves the reader to make sense of the result. It comprises six chapters/stories, the longest of which takes up 170 of the 230 pages. The five shorter pieces may or may not take place within the same chronology; the novella probably doesn’t, because it contradicts the rest of the book – but it depends how you interpret what happens.

What, then,
switterbug (Betsey)
This is a savage, gutsy probe of suicide and its aftermath. These allegorically linked stories, notably the middle novellas, bring the reader to a naked immediacy, a place where there is no escape and no room to sit on the perimeter. David Vann has re-imagined his father's suicide (thirty years ago, when Vann was 13) and mythologized it in this semi-autobiographical memoir, and he has done this with a graphic, naked brawn and authenticity that I have rarely encountered in other stories of suicid ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it did not like it
Let’s start with the good points. The writing, although nowhere as beautifully moving as Cormac McCarthy’s like some reviewers suggested, is fluid, skilled and really rather good. The ambition of the author should also be acknowledged and the concept to explore a central story through several, often conflicting, angles is both intriguing and appealing. Unfortunately it never really convinces, and such device feels more like an after-though to justify the compilation of several short stories with ...more
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Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
I like David Vann's books but this one was confusing - it says it is a novel but it is a set of 6 short stories (with one being most of the book) discussing death, suicide, human weakness and confusion. The characters are all the same in each story but the outcome (who died and how) is very different.
The writing is Vann's usual impeccable level - irony, humour, honesty and a variety of human emotions are explored. I just did not like the structure of the book.
Friederike Knabe
Jan 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-lit
Whether or not you know about the author's personal context (touched on in the Acknowledgements) that led him to write this deeply affecting and thought provoking collection of stories, the title itself implies that it will be anything but an "easy read". Not a book I would have picked up without strong recommendations. Five short stories, structurally grouped around the substantial and central novella, are linked together through Roy and his relationship to his father Jim, a former dentist turn ...more
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
David Vann's Legend of a Suicide: Stories (P.S.) consists of a novella and short stories that are semi-autobiographical. Vann spent his early years in Ketchikan, Alaska where his father had a dental practice. His father sold the practice and bought a fishing boat that he hoped would provide a living. His father invested unwisely and lost a lot of money. On top of that, the IRS was after him for some investments he made in other countries. Vann's parents divorced when Vann was about five years ol ...more
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ARC from publisher

How I love the ladies at Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of "Legends of a Suicide". This is a book I may never have picked up on my own, so I am very thankful to them for the opportunity to review it.

David Vann's family has been surrounded by suicide. At a young age, his father took his own life, his step mother's parents died by murder/suicide, and his grandmother found her mother dead by self-hanging. David had a hard time accepting and believing in his fathers death.
Legend of a Suicide has a lot in common with Vann’s 2011 novel, Caribou Island; in fact, Caribou Island could be seen as a sequel, as it reworks many of the bleak stories of family breakdown and violence found in this book, even reusing some of the same characters. But whereas Caribou Island is a fairly straightforward novel, Legend of a Suicide is harder to pigeonhole: it’s a collection of stories, but vaguely chronological and all based around the same characters and themes; most of the pages ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
‘He wasn’t sure the story could make any sense.’

This was David Vann’s first book of fiction and is comprised of five short stories and a novella. The stories are fictional but as David Vann states in the acknowledgements: ‘They’re fictional, but are based on a lot that’s true’. The book is dedicated to James Vann, David’s father, who committed suicide in 1980 when David was aged 13 years.

Each reader can decide for themselves where and how firm a line to draw between the historical James Edwin Va
Thurston Hunger
Write what you know is often the credo applied to new writers. It always stymies me, as I don't know much...

But Vann has known pain. It comes out mutated (but not muted) into his "fiction" here, almost like the way some movies have alternate endings. His writing is crisp and exceptional, and the focused, or at least longest, story here is a difficult read. More troubling than The Road, as here the apocalypse created is smaller and more personal. I cannot recommend this for everyone; if this is a
Nov 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
yeh pretty good, compelling, shocking, - proper review later

Riveting and visceral, all the stories centre around a boy with a suicidal father (a failed dentist), and a mother with a series of boyfriends (very Tobias Wolf). The viewpoint is usually the child’s, but in the long novella it switches with heart freezing effect to the father’s halfway through. Seriously chilling – appropriate as it’s set in the wastes of Alaska - it deals with isolation, starvation, depression, fear, false hope, failu
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to juliemcl by: Lorrie Moore
Shelves: re-read
Stellar and unforgettable. The novella in the middle, Sukkwan Island, is one of the best things I have ever read. if you are reading this review, I must urge you to READ THIS. It reminds me of McCarthy's The Road (and indeed Vann notes his indebtedness to McCarthy in the acknowledgements) but it's so much more thoughtful and piercing - and I loved The Road. That Vann could make me end up sympathizing with such an odious, self-pitying, self-rationalizing character as Jim Fenn is a mighty feat. ju ...more
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
Just didn't really like this book... Although it's descriptively well written, I just felt manipulated and very depressed by the end of it.
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read other goodreads reviews after finishing this book, as I wasn't sure about its intent. For instance, I was confused by the sudden appearance of a sister in the third story, who hadn't been mentioned before (in fact the prior story clearly mentioned a house inhabited by only a mother and a son). Once strange editorial oversight in the third story was the description of the stepmother wearing jeans tshirt and cap, but then suddenly appearing in a dress. This annoyed me. The descriptio ...more
Karolina I-ska
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn’t have picked up a better book for cold autumn evenings. This is a collection of short stories which reads like a novel, as all stories are related, each exploring the relationship between the author and his father who committed suicide when the boy was only 13. It’s so easy to fall into banality with this topic, but this book managed to be very moving while masterfully leaving things unsaid. It absorbs you into this cold, desolate Alaskan landscape, and leaves you rain-drenched and shive ...more
Arthur Pero
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dude, if I could give this six stars I would.
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Though this is a collection of stories, each focuses on the same character, Roy, and how his father's suicide has shaped his life. After I finished reading the last story, I immediately read the first one again, just to get a stronger sense of connectedness. The book is incredible. Its style is simple, straightforward, and at times reminiscent of Richard Ford in Rock Springs, particularly the duck hunting story. (Though this may be because Roy spends a good amount of time hunting and fishing.) O ...more
Deborah Biancotti
"An author more haunted by paternal amputation would be difficult to imagine. A sadder book about fathers and sons would be impossible to imagine."

So says the New York Times Sunday Book Review (

Vann here collects 5 short stories & a novella, all relating to his father, all exploring Vann's relationship to his father and his relatiionship to his father's death. Some of these are fiction, since we know from a study of Vann's own life that his father suicided when he
“I don’t want to just try to survive winter.”

Wow, alright. A few things are clear after reading Caribou Island and this, the author’s collection of linked short stories (though it’s closer to a novel, really, as the stories are all about the same person). One: Vann is a master at evoking the beauty and harshness of Alaska. Two: cheating dentist father is a theme/issue for the author (though I believe it’s the same cheating dentist father as in Caribou Island). Three: the author's mind is darker
Leni Iversen
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
This was a very confusing book. It starts out plainly enough with the narrator talking about his birth, his early childhood in Alaska, his parents' divorce and his father's suicide. After this introductory chapter each subsequent chapter changes the facts, the timeline, the point of view, the setting, and occasionally the narrator. A few chapters in I felt myself flailing as desperately as the dysfunctional characters. I was searching in vain for some phrase or object that would tell me if I was ...more
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Published in 19 languages, David Vann’s internationally-bestselling books have won 15 prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain and, most recently, the $50,000 St. Francis College Literary Prize 2013, and appeared on 70 Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Outside, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, The Sunday Times, The Obse ...more
“I thought that was a wonderful idea, that one could be on hell without being in it, like “Just Visiting” on the Monopoly board.” 4 likes
“A favored bit from "A Legend of Good Men"

"My mother and I each had our routines. She taught high school, took long hikes in the state parks near our house, read mystery novels, and sometimes disappeared with explanations as thin as, "I just need a few days," or "I'm going to visit a friend."
"Which friend?" I would ask.
"That's right," she would say.”
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