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Caribou Island

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  3,128 ratings  ·  580 reviews

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unraveling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary's old dream, they're hauling logs to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in he

Hardcover, 293 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Harper (first published 2010)
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Average rating 3.46  · 
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 ·  3,128 ratings  ·  580 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Caribou Island is a masterpiece. Set in the remote bleakness of water-soaked, small town Alaska, this is a tale of desperation, failure, of man-versus-nature but also of man so arrogant and self-involved, so removed from reality that he does not bother to properly prepare for the battle. Some hope is gleaned, some battles are won, but the war seen here is a dark, suffocating presence.
Alaska felt like the end of the world, a place of exile. Those who couldn’t fit anywhere else came here, and
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Alaska’s beauty has a brutal edge. From a distance it appears calm and pristine, but the reality of living there can be harsh, unyielding. Chaos is part of its nature, a reflection of the chaos in the couple’s marriage, their lives, while at the same time adding to their chaos. A perfect storm gaining momentum.

Gary pictures himself as an ancient Viking; forever bonded to this wilderness, thriving, every attempt at nature to knock him down is countered with his conquering bellows. As part of his
"You can't have what no longer exists."

Brutally raw.....and that's not just an adequate descriptive for the glacier-fed lake on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Rugged terrain both in life and in the treacherous environment that surrounds both the body and the soul.

Gary and Irene seem to gravitate toward the light of a star that may not be their own. Gary continuously fights against the demons within that have tagged alongside him for all of his adult life. He casts his fate like coins thrown randomly
“What Gary wanted was the imagined village, the return to an idyllic time when he could have a role, a set task, as blacksmith or baker or singer of a people’s stories.”

Gary’s a miserable son-of-a-gun, but he has his up moments, and if I were doing an armchair diagnosis, I’d be inclined toward bi-polar, manic-depressive, or whatever the current terminology is. Irene has stuck with him, this “champion of regret . . . The regret a living thing, a pool inside him.”

They’re in Alaska, building a
LeAnne: GeezerMom
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dark-ity, dark-dark, dark! The beautiful Alaskan wilderness was as much a part of this story as its characters - a couple in their mid-50s setting about building (and arguing over) a tiny cabin and about their adult children. These people were drawn with outstanding depth and tone, and that is true for even sideline characters - the four friends and lovers who meander in and out of the tale.

Aside from Rhoda, the gentle hearted daughter, and a sweet side character named Carl, we see shards of th
Julie Christine
I couldn’t put this book down. Even the moments when I wanted to throw it against the wall, Caribou Island stuck to my hands, the force of its narrative glue stronger than my desire to be rid of its woe and rage.

The backdrop is the great and terrible beauty of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, where Nature’s threat looms in every scene. The opening pages show Irene and Gary, a couple in their mid-fifties, standing apart as their thirty-year marriage unravels between them while they battle a storm from
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
"Because you can choose who you'll be with, but you can't choose who they'll become."

This is a story of Gary and Irene, not of an island. The island exists physically and figuratively, but this is a story of them. Their love, envy and hatred of one another. His failings and her failure to realize it too quickly.

They've been together for thirty years, both in their middle 50's and retired; they have 2 children, one that loves and one that ignores. The men in the family have always done what they
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Check out my interview with David Vann in August 2012 >>

While reading this story i am thinking of the story Revolutionary Road written by Richard Yates a tale of marriage and the destructive behaviors of the human heart displayed in that story. If you have seen the movie it is probably even more engrained in your mind the images of despair and the path the couple found themselves down. The pursuit of happiness its funny how we try to attain h
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2011
Not long ago, I was mesmerized by David Vann’s exceptional and perceptive collection, Legend of a Suicide – a mythology of his father’s death. I wondered whether his first full-length novel would capture the magic and raw energy of that astonishing book.

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is yes.

Beware: Caribou Island is NOT for readers who are looking for “likeable characters” and Hollywood-type endings. It ventures into dark emotional territory that’s not always comfortable to reside in – the same
Apr 30, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
David Vann uses no quotation marks throughout this bleak depressing read. Is his refusal to use quotation marks supposed to be some new "Style" of writing, like texting? Why not just throw out all punctuation? We could all write in one long rambling paragraph. Eventually we could even leave out the spacing between words. I HATE what is being done to literature by those too lazy, or too unlearned, to write properly.

Vann's imagination is just so bleak, so depressing, he should see a doctor. He ob
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-i-own
3.5. To quote my GR friend LeAnne, this book was "darkity, dark-dark, dark"! I loved reading about Alaska, a place I've never been and which seems so intimidating to me. Nice place to visit but I know I'm not cut out to live there. I think the State itself is as much a character in this book as the people. The main focus is on Gary and Irene and their crumbling marriage. More of convenience at this stage than true love and passion. Their daughter Rhoda is also focused on in her relationship with ...more
My first encounter with David Vann blew me away. I’d heard his work compared to Cormac McCarthy’s in terms of bleakness, along the lines of: “The Road is a picnic in the park compared to Caribou Island.” Although there are ways in which Vann’s work resembles McCarthy’s (no quotation marks to denote speech, epic-scale tragedies taking place in vast open country), Blood Meridian, for one, is much more violent and nihilistic than Caribou Island.

The novel’s gory final tableau may have reminded me o
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, overdrive

I remember loving another book a while back narrated by Bronson Pinchot (yes, that Bronson Pinchot), so when I came across this one I borrowed it immediately. A rather depressing book set in Alaska, it asks the question Can this marriage be saved? and then smacks you in the face with the answer.

Slow moving and very sad, but I liked the setting.

As usual, Pinchot delivered in his unique style, full of emotion and credibility.
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a richly absorbing and dark, domestic drama that combines the natural, icy world of the Alaska frontier with a story of deceptive love and betrayal. If Steinbeck and Hemingway married the best of Anita Shreve, you would get David Vann's Caribou Island. His prose is terse and the characterizations are subtle, but knifing. His characters are saturated with loneliness and disconnection with their lives, with each other, in a pit of misperception, despair and exile, in a conflict of selves t ...more
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Cold. Distant. Bleak. Unhappy. Depressing as fuck.

The characters are largely unlikeable, the relationships are thoroughly dysfunctional, and the style keeps the reader (or at least me) at arm's length throughout. Part of this distance is due to David Vann's Cormac McCarthy-esque refusal to use quotation marks to help mark characters' speech. This doesn't make it difficult to tell who is speaking, but it does diminish the sense of the characters as active participants in the story. Because the te
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, favourites
I love books like this. The characters so internal, the setting so riveting and used as so much more than a reflection of its characters. This book is not a happy read, indeed it is bleak and desolate, yet I found myself smirking at Irenes dialogue, she knows her lot in life and she is resigned to it, well at least she was, existing with a husband that is so fraught with illusions of grandeur that he constantly fails to see the essence that is his life, and this is just one of his many failings. ...more
Colleen Henderson
Apr 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book was awful. The characters are poorly delineated, and as a consequence they lack depth and emotional richness. The story line had potential, but was not fully developed - there were too many questions left unanswered. Was the main character traumatized by childhood events, or was she driven to despair by a cold, thoughtless husband and children that were very self absorbed? I kept reading because I kept hoping somehow the book would get better and the author would pull it all together, ...more
Alaska felt like the end of the world, a place of exile. Those who couldn't fit anywhere else came here, and if they couldn't cling to anything here, they just fell off the edge. These tiny towns in a great expanse, enclaves of despair.

The sentence above, uttered by one of its characters, could summarize David Vann’s elegantly bleak debut novel, Caribou Island. (His previously published work, Legend of a Suicide, was a critically acclaimed collection of short stories.)

From the moment we meet Ire
Bree T
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it
I feel as though this book should almost come with some sort of warning. It should be a bible for everyone out there who thinks they want to go and build a cabin somewhere in isolation and live there. Because chances are, they don’t know what they’re doing, don’t really want to go and actually do that and….that’ll be the least of the things that can go wrong.

Gary and Irene have lived in Alaska for 30 years. Drifting there by accident, somehow staying. Gary is a restless sort, he has many grand p
Mar 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The writing is perfect in this dark novel. No extra words, just razor sharpness. The characters are grim and too real. I don't think I'll forget this story, ever. ...more
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another impressive story by David Vann! The struggle between Irene and Gary, who are married for a long time, is hauntingly told. The struggle with each other and with life in general. Profound and easily recognizable. Both of them are looking for change. Their son and daughter each have their own troubles in life. The end is unsuspected.

David Vann is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.
Jo Case
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novel
Isaiah Berlin once divided writers into hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of one defining idea, and foxes, who draw on a variety of experiences and ideas. (Proust was a hedgehog, Shakespeare was a fox.) It’s rather early in David Vann’s literary career to be making broad pronouncements, but so far he’s displaying distinct hedgehog characteristics – as did Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road), who Vann echoes in his precise mapping of the dreams and neuroses of middle-class America.

Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a bruiser. I felt like I'd been hit by a truck when I finished it. The next morning, I attempted to explain it to my husband and he said "what made you continue reading it?" For me, and really anyone who enjoys fiction, it's the chance to safely explore dangerous situations, and the call of a good story. For lovers of gothic, it's the visceral response: the blood pumping, skin tingling feeling of anxiety, while your mind races along with the arc of the story. Like watching a train wreck ...more
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Many people think of Alaska as wildness with great open spaces in a mountainous wildernous with sub-arctic cold, dark and long winters, ever-light summers, bears and moose. This is not the Alaska of David Vann. His Alaska consists of what sounds like an area most likely the Tongass National Rain Forest. This is the northernmost rainforest on earth, and it extends into southeast Alaska. Trees here are huge but grow close together here much like in the Amazon. It rains up to 400 inches a year in t ...more
Teresa Lukey
Jun 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I can surely see why this book does not have a higher average rating for the characters in this story are absolutely dreadful. Unlikable characters do make it difficult, for me, to rate a book, but the shock value at the end of the book really gave it an extra boost, something akin to Rebecca.

This is a story of Gary and Irene, a married couple, whose relationship has gone rancid. The couple struggles to get along with each other through the humdrum of their day-to-day activities, but they have l
Jan 25, 2011 marked it as to-read
I have finally become too self absorbed. I had a very bad moment today.

I was surfing goodreads and I did that thing where you see an ad while you are clicking to the next page but I just saw a name. I clicked back but I got a different ad. So I searched, was david vann who I thought he was? he was and he had a new book.


So I immediately took my self down to the store with my poor impulse control and bought it (and the top
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Caribou Island might in fact be a bit of a masterpiece but my goodness it was unrelenting. I don't really know how to review this in a way that makes any sense in terms of my rating. Caribou Island is a really hostile novel, set in a painfully beautiful but ultimately hostile environment. Vann's Alaska is one of crushing solitude, peopled by ultimately miserable people who by and large seem intent on inflicting their misery on those around them. This is a novel about the weight of dreams deferre ...more
Helen (Helena/Nell)
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
I hated the style. Not the lack of speech marks round direct speech, which apparently annoys some readers,but the terse little verbless sentences. I thought them self-conscious and artificial. Easy to read though:

"Hollows inside him, only hollows. No substance. She had somehow blown the center out of him. He could see her face, when they had first gotten together, when it seemed that she loved him. Her smile a little hesitant, even, as if she were nervous too."

Very simple, but not high-class wri
Lydia Presley
This book is .. there is no single word to describe it. Some words that come close are:

I was unprepared for the heavy, depressive feel of the story and, thinking back on it, I should have been prepared. The cover is dark, the setting is not known for it's warmth (thus inspiring feelings of joy), and, although I felt my mood descending with each page read, I couldn't tear my eyes or my thoughts away from the train-wreck of a story the people in Caribou Island were living.

I foun
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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

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71 likes · 12 comments
“Because you can choose who you’ll be with, but you can’t choose who they’ll become.” 7 likes
“He hadn't yet seen his life wasted, hadn't yet understood the pure longing for what was really a kind of annihilation. A desire to see what the world can do, to see what you can endure, to see, finally, what you're made of as you're torn apart. A kind of bliss to annihilation, to being wiped away. "But ever he has longing, he who sets out on the sea", and this longing is to face the very worst, a delicate hope for a larger wave.” 0 likes
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