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Aarde by David Vann
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Aarde (edition 2012)

by David Vann, Arjaan Van Nimwegen

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137687,614 (3.21)None
Member:tjongejongen
Title:Aarde
Authors:David Vann
Other authors:Arjaan Van Nimwegen
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Dirt by David Vann

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Showing 5 of 5
Truly disturbing novel. A bit too old for all the adolescent angst, and the way the action spirals out of control, gears up and slows down only to gear up again and finally descend into chaos. Funny writing. Sentences like this. Not as much of an atmosphere as Sukkwan Island. End is gruesome. Deal with Jennifer creepy and strange. ( )
  KymmAC | Mar 2, 2014 |
First time in a very long time indeed that I’ve read a novel by an American novelist. Surely David Vann writes in a powerful, suspense-rich manner that keeps you going where you as a reader no longer want to go. His sentences are short and sparse. His dialogues are naturally flowing, obviating the need for all kinds of punctuation. His sex scenes are hot and some of the best ever written, from the perspective of a lust filled virgin boy. Especially his remarks that intercourse beats any type of state of nirvana is much appreciated. I suspected all the time that his grandfather would prove to be also his father, but that didn’t become quite clear in the end. The boy seems quite sane when he finally completes the killing of his mom. But there are many toe-curling moments before that when I wanted to shout to either him or her to stay cool and act responsibly. I also like the toe-curling humour, like the joke Galen makes each time they pass the shopping mall, about the cake they have there. The repetition does it and the hatred of the others in the car becomes palpable at some stage. ( )
  alexbolding | Dec 30, 2013 |
This is easily one of the best novels that I've read in some time. We got a chance to see David Vann read and answer questions at Moe's Books and he was very funny. There were some of his in-laws in the crowd and maybe that made him extra nervous, or whatever, but his comments between readings were so delightfully bizarre and funny. He made the new book enticing, and we were both already primed to buy it, based on his previous exciting novel, Caribou Island. His writing here is just as fabulous and the subject matter as wonderfully disturbing. At Moe's he said that he has always had a troubled relationship with his mother. He still sees a counselor about the mother-son dynamic and that's very much reflected in the novel. All of the family members in the book are dysfunctional, but it's the intense problems between our main character, twenty-two-year-old Galen, and his mother that really come to a head at the book's end. I'm not going to say anything else about the plot, other than—it's simple, unexpected, and bizarre.
What I want to mention, is the beauty of Vann's language. His short sentences are divine. In structure, they harken to the simplicity of a Hemingway. And like reading a great Cormac McCarthy novel, his writing is almost too good. You will find yourself stopping and rereading lines, to see just how he does so much with simple words. So much is expressed in so few words.
When he is writing about the Central Valley it is a brutal beauty. Inferno and hell are easy terms to describe the intense heat that bakes the soil and the mind here, but Vann is also able to recreate so many states of mind that come about when working, moving, or just breathing, in a searing heat at 100 degrees and more. The other masterly expressed reality that Vann handles with seeming ease, is when he writes about the dirt that makes up the valley. Dirt is so much more than a title, it takes over the last part of the book. Galen's connection with reality becomes very tenuous at times in the book, leading to the following "dirt" passage.

"Galen didn't know what any of it meant, but he knew dirt was his teacher. At every moment, unexpected, dirt was showing him something. Better than going to a university. He might never go, even with all the money. He might just stay right here, in this old house and orchard, and learn everything."

Another passage that struck me, was dealing with Galen's grandmother who has been put in a "home" for her own good.
"Do you know what it's like to not remember?"
"No."
"It's like being no one, but still having to live anyway."

It's a thrill to have read this book once and to know how good it will be to return to again. ( )
  jphamilton | Jul 1, 2013 |
I was excited to read this novel as I was very impressed by the author’s dark style in Caribou Island. I was, unfortunately, disappointed in his latest effort here.

Having read Caribou Island, I went into Dirt fully expecting to be swept into a horrifyingly dark world. So it was no surprise to land in a world of family violence, incest, and mental illness. While fairly graphic and not for the faint of heart, the author’s writing style is compelling. It speaks to his talent that despite my developing a near contempt for the characters, and a feeling of exhaustion as the plot seemed to drag, I finished the novel. I think I finished it only because his writing style is so stark, horrifying and riveting that it’s just impossible to turn away.

Sadly, the gripping writing is the only saving grace here. The author writes of family pathos in a way that is so horrifying you have to keep reading in spite of your horror. The far-reaching consequences of family dysfunction, taken to its most extreme conclusion, are presented without holding any punches. But the actions of the characters are so extreme, and so horrific, that it was impossible to find any kind of a foothold to connect with any of them. Where in Caribou Island, the reader got to witness the characters’ slow spiral, and thereby connect with their humanity before it unraveled, here we are introduced to characters already past the point of no return and for whom it was just not possible, at least for me, to develop any kind of concern.

The pace of the plot was not even, and the tension not consistent enough to prevent the novel from feeling like a slog in many places. The first third dragged, the middle third picked up and showed some promise, but in the final third, any tension generated by the climax of the novel was undone by the main character’s lengthy free associations about transcendence. These often occurred just as plot tension was finally building, so that reading the last portion became endlessly frustrating.

In the end, I continue to admire the unique and stark writing style of this clearly talented author. I wish I had enjoyed this latest effort much more than I did, but while the writing style continues to impress, the lack of character development and the inconsistent pacing made this a difficult read. ( )
1 vote Litfan | May 31, 2012 |
It's difficult to rate this book: the writing is stellar, but two stars and "it was okay" is all the enthusiasm I can muster for the story itself. That's the trouble with a rating system based on how much I like something. I came away from this novel feeling covered in dirt myself, not a feeling that engenders the warm fuzzies I associate with a three-star rating, nor the cheerful joy of a four-star rating, nor the stunned awe of a five-star rating. Two stars. Yep, that's about it.

Maybe it's because none of the characters, with the possible exception of Grandma, are likeable. And Grandma herself is a victim of some form of senile dementia, so who knows what she was like when she had all her faculties? Ah well. On to the synopsis.

Galen, age 22, lives with his middle-aged mother, Susan, in a rural suburb of Sacramento, in the old family home on a once-working walnut ranch. Galen lives inside his head, and seeks transcendence from this mortal coil through Eastern philosophies, Richard Bach novels, vegetarianism, and bulimia. His mother tells him there's no money to send him to college. He's not sure if he believes her, especially when his Aunt Helen continually brings up "the trust fund" and keeps asking Susan to write her a check so she can pay for her daughter Jennifer's college education. Susan insists there's only sufficient money left to maintain the homeplace and fund Grandma's stay in the assisted living facility where Susan placed her, and this subject is a continued source of family friction and viciousness. They all say the most awful things to each other, and Galen wonders why they continue to call themselves a family and follow family traditions such as the annual trip to their mountain cabin.

This year, the annual mountain cabin trip results in a massive family meltdown, and they return early. Something has shifted inside Galen, however, which drastically changes his perception of family and of the world, and leads to the disturbing events of the rest of the novel.

As I mentioned before, the writing is stellar. David Vann's gift for description makes Galen's odd thought processes seem almost rational; his search for enlightenment through binging and purging almost reasonable; and the events of the last two-thirds of the novel almost inevitable. Ultimately, though, I did not enjoy my experience with Galen and his family. But this may be a story I will like better, later, upon more reflection.

Many thanks to Goodreads' First Reads program for the opportunity to read this book. ( )
  avanta7 | Apr 22, 2012 |
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The year is 1985, and twenty-two-year-old Galen, a New Age believer, lives with his emotionally dependent mother in a suburb of Sacramento, surviving on the family trust fund--old money that his aunt and seventeen-year-old cousin are determined to get their hands on. When the family takes a trip to a cabin near South Lake Tahoe, tensions cause Galen to discover the shocking truth of just how far he will go to attain the transcendence he craves.… (more)

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