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Legend of a Suicide by David Vann

Legend of a Suicide (original 2008; edition 2008)

by David Vann

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3572530,515 (3.73)35
Title:Legend of a Suicide
Authors:David Vann
Collections:Your library
Tags:Short Stories, E-Book

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Legend of a Suicide by David Vann (2008)

  1. 00
    Breath by Tim Winton (1Owlette)
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    Nothing by Paul Morley (sanddancer)
    sanddancer: Both are books where the author writes about his father's suicide.

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David Vann makes no secret of the fact that his father’s suicide provides the seed for this book. However, the stories in the collection are in no sense a literal rendering of the events that led his father to take his own life. Rather, one can understand them as a form of therapy or a means to confront and take control of a traumatic and life-shaping experience. What seems to be going on here is that Vann is addressing and interpreting his father’s suicide in a series of fictional treatments. Some appear to deal more or less squarely with the man’s life and character. Others take a sidelong perspective, approaching the issue via an exploration of father-son relationships. Vann’s fictional stand-in is Roy Fenn, who we encounter as both a boy and a man. Roy’s father, like the author’s father, was a dentist who hated his profession, a man who loved the outdoors and who because he grew to know himself too late, made a series of blunders and fatal miscalculations in his personal life that led to estrangement from his family and financial ruin. The stories depict the fallout from Roy’s father’s poor decisions: an affair with a woman named Rhoda, the receptionist at his dental practice, the purchase of a boat and an ill-fated attempt to make a living as a fisherman. Most striking and memorable is the long two-part story “Sukkwan Island.” The story takes place after the breakup of the family. Roy is thirteen and his father takes him homesteading on remote Sukkwan Island, in south-eastern Alaska. Roy’s father’s second marriage to Rhoda has also failed, because of his compulsive womanizing, though he has not given up on the relationship. The plan is that Roy and his father will deal with the hardships of winter alone together in a tiny cabin in almost complete isolation from civilization and human contact. However, over the long months of their confinement the father’s haphazard preparation, obsessive nature and myriad character flaws surface again and again, finally overwhelming the situation in which the two find themselves, with tragic results. Throughout the book the writing is suspenseful, tersely observant, sometimes poetic, always engaging. Legend of a Suicide is a book of great originality and power that depicts human weakness and its consequences unflinchingly. In the end however it is about survival, forgiveness and acceptance. ( )
  icolford | Dec 27, 2016 |
What can one say? The guy is simply unique. The voice, the story, the suspense, the sheer awkwardness at times. The father and son locked on an island in Alaska is a really up-close story that gets under the skin, certainly with the knowledge one has gleaned already from the three preceding short stories. The father cries at night, virtually every night, and sometimes tells his son about his sins (him fucking around with hookers or his assistant in the dentist practice). He falls at some stage and it is not clear if he deliberately stepped off the cliff. He can be quite manipulative to his 13 year old son, like when he senses his son would like to leave the island ahead of winter trouble, isolation and possible madness, and then he says to Roy, he can go – the island and the winter experience is something for men after all, real men, not 13 year old boys. And then Roy walks into his father holding a hand gun to his head in the cabin. Dad freezes, turns and gives the gun to his son, walking out into the snow. He hears the shot, but initially thinks nothing of it. When he returns after some hours he finds the dead body of his son on the floor. And that’s the start of a wild trip of his father and the corpse, on a boat, landing on a long island, running out of fuel, breaking into an outhouse, lamenting his life, walking around the island, finally being discovered by a Police helicopter (after setting a section of the forest on fire, burning part of the outhouse). Being on trial for the murder of his son, escaping at some stage on a boat with two dubious types, who decide after receiving some money to kill the father, sensing they can do so with impunity since he’s on the run from justice, a relatively quick death in the icy water follows. Well, some revenge in writing! I think it is the best revenge I ever heard of! Harrowing, yet so utterly rewarding for Roy. After this gut-wrenching story there follow two more short stories, where David tries to understand his father by settling in a place where his father worked and ran off with a woman. He traces the woman and invites her for dinner together with her husband. The guy does some weird things, like killing young salmon babies at night that he is supposed to rear during his day-time job. Most beautifully and again gut-wrenching is how he likes the woman and can imagine with hindsight how his father fell for her, despite the fact that that was the start of the unravelling of his father’s family life and ultimately led him to his suicide. ( )
  alexbolding | Aug 10, 2014 |
Sorry I read this book. Language was disconnected and it was hard to follow the story. ( )
  jamesfallen | Feb 7, 2014 |
This is simply an excellent combination of fine writing, wonderfully-drawn characters, a setting strong enough to be counted as another character, and a storyline that involves twisted people circling death. This was Vann's first published work, and is in the form of several short stories and one rather long story that take place in Alaska and include much that is autobiographical. I always find myself surprised and impressed, sometimes repulsed and shocked, but I will always return for more of Vann's writing.

Months ago we got a chance to see him speak at Moe's Books, when he was touring for his excellent, and also twisted novel, Dirt. He had some friends, and maybe relatives in the crowd, and, with them there, and some questions from readers wondering about how autobiographical his fiction is, he was most uneasy talking about how he depicted his mother in Dirt, and I'm sure the same unease would have stalked the room if anyone had brought up the father figure in Legend of a Suicide. His father did live in Alaska, David was born there, and the title's suicide is a reference to his dad's death by his own hand with a .44 Magnum. There are many trouble people in his writing. They all ring true as people, and they act completely unpredictable (like much of life) at times of ultimate stress — it always makes for some damn gripping reading.

Several of the other short stories in Legend also grab a hold of you, but the long one, Sukkwan Island, is really developed, and you really get into the man and the son's disjointed relationship as they struggle to survive the harsh climate of their remote and crude cabin in Alaska. You think things are coming to a head ... and then they pull through another hardship ... and then it all goes to hell. You end up with one person alone, with a very thin connection to any reality, and you don't hold out much hope.

Vann portrays a crazed mind on paper as good as anyone ever has. He's a writer that you want to be disturbed by. ( )
  jphamilton | Aug 10, 2013 |
Awful sentence structure.
  evforija | Oct 10, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Moving, readable and often bleakly funny, it deserves to find a wide and enthusiastic readership. Its UK publisher's comparisons with the likes of Wolff and Richard Ford aren't, for once, misplaced.
Vann goes beyond such distinctions. His legend is at once the truest memoir and the purest fiction. You need to know it is based on facts to understand just how far he has gone in creating a new reality. But you also need to remain ignorant of the fictional surprise he has in store, so that it can hit you with the full force of new knowledge. Nothing quite like this book has been written before.
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For my father, James Edwin Vann, 1940-1980
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My mother gave birth on Adak Island, a small hunk of rock and snow far out on the Aleutian chain, at the edge of the Bering Sea.
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Sukkwann Island correspond à une nouvelle du recueil Legends of a Suicide. Merci de ne pas combiner ces deux œuvres.
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Set mostly in the wilds of Alaska, the stories featured in this book take on the shifting legend of a lost father. It features the story 'Ichthyology', where a young boy watches his father spiral from divorce to suicide.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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