Legend Of A Suicide
I'd read a lot of buzz about Legend Of A Suicide prior to reading it, and then fell across it in a second hand bookshop in Camden last weekend. I have a belief in the synchronicity of chance, and, for a book that you intend to read to appear in a second hand shop you happen to visit, makes it seem like its "there for you". Like you're supposed to read it somehow.
There's a lot to be said about 'Legend Of A Suicide'. Not really a novel, more 4 vignettes with a novella in the middle, it is initially difficult to engage with, and is definitely an experiment in form and storytelling, even at the end Roy and his father Jim maintain a kind of impenetrable mystique as characters. The bulk of the story concerns Roy going to live with his father in a remote corner of Alaska, in a kind of survivalist scenario whereby they live self-sufficiently without contact with the outside world. The beating heart of this story is the crushing weight of responsibility and burden of guilt on Roy, who suddenly finds himself pretty much a caretaker to his increasingly unstable and unpredictable father. The prose has good descriptive passages bleak, stark, conveying well the oppressive solitude of their location and forced togetherness. It reminded me both of Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast and Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, two other novels concerning fathers who drag their children into ill advised and dangerous territory to suit their own ideals and needs. The scene in which Roy's father begins to relate intimate details of his sex life to his child makes you squirm for the terrible predicament Roy has been placed in and wonder why on earth his mother let him go there.
I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who might read the book after reading this review and so I can only say, that after I had presumed I knew exactly where this novel was taking me in all respects I had my mind officially blown by this novel in the middle third. What really makes this novel an experience is the knowledge that David Vann's father committed suicide in real life, and as you read this fictionalized story you realize you are reading Vann's "dark night of the soul" laid bare. It is incredibly courageous of him to bring this story to paper, was no doubt hugely difficult to write and whilst doubtless cathartic he has allowed every person who reads this to truly see the inner workings of his psychological reaction, not through fact, "this is what happened and this is how I felt" but subtly, through fictionalised prose. It is no Dave Pelzer or similar story of "my terrible childhood" which populate the shelves of every supermarket. You grieve and ache for Vann, because you realise through your own thought process without being instructed why he is telling you this other story, the place that it has come from within him. It's art, really.
Which isn't to say it is flawless, there are ways that I feel it let itself down, it could be dull in parts and its really all about the middle third with the writing either side lacking the same quality or punch, though the end has some nice lines. It is however totally worth reading for the excellent Sukkwan Island section which has so much to say about so many important things, fatherhood, despair, revenge, legacy, psychology and anger and is both an important addition to literature on the topic and through its experimental style to literature as a whole. 9/10