13 January 2012

Imprint Friday: Caribou Island by David Vann

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

They say that opposites attract, but sometimes a couple brings too many differences to a marriage and too few points of commonality. David Vann explores just such a couple in his Caribou Island, recently out in paperback. Here's the publisher's summary:

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Gary and Irene’s marriage is unraveling. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream and trying to rebuild their life together, they are finally constructing the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place. But the onset of an early winter and the overwhelming isolation of the prehistoric wilderness threaten their bond to the core.

Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest, Caribou Island is a drama of bitter love and failed dreams—an unforgettable portrait of desolation, violence, and the darkness of the soul.
Although it's certainly not everyone's dream, I've always been attracted to the idea of a cabin in the woods with a fair mix of self-sufficiency. I'm not so sure, however, I'd take it as far as Gary by hauling logs in a canoe to a lonely island in the harsh Alaskan environment. In fact, Alaska acts almost as a third wheel in the couple's relationship, and without it, Gary and Irene might have had a running start. As it is, their own limitations are magnified in the face of the cold and wet, the bears and mosquitoes.

Caribou Island isn't a happy novel; it's a look at stubbornness gone too far, crippling insecurity, mixed up hate and love, and the inability to see reality. It's also about the other Alaska, the one you don't see on postcards.
Irene slumped down inside the cabin, out of the wind for the most part, ducked her head down, her chin inside her jacket, folded her arms, closed her eyes.

A fair representation of her three decades in Alaska, slumping down in rain gear, hiding, making herself as small as possible, fending off mosquitoes that somehow managed to fly despite the wind. Feeling chilled and alone. Not the expansive vision you'd be tempted to have, spreading your arms on some sunny day on an open slope of purple lupine, looking at mountains all around. (p. 204)
Vann takes you into the wilderness and into the heart of a family on the brink of disaster. You'll survive, but will they?

Take a look at some other opinions (click the links to get the full reviews):
  • Caitlin Roper, writing for the Los Angeles Times: "Vann clearly has gifts for capturing emotional isolation and suffering. But it's his ability to spin a riveting story from these dark materials that is distinctive."
  • Wendy from Caribousmom: "David Vann writes with honesty and sharp-edged realism that is hard to ignore. Not every reader will want to travel through this story with Vann, but for those who do, it will be a ride they will not soon forget."
  • Ti from Book Chatter: "You don’t enjoy a story like this, but you experience it and appreciate it on a different level. Vann is a very talented writer and at this point, I’d read anything by him."
I have always had good luck with authors who have written for Outdside magazine, and Vann is no exception. To learn more about David Vann, visit his website.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Caribou Island at an Indie
Caribou Island at Powell's
Caribou Island at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061875731


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 1/13/12, 6:41 AM  

This story was so dark and haunting, but I really enjoyed the experience.

Beth Hoffman 1/13/12, 9:23 AM  

I like that such a desperate story takes place in the fierce underbelly of Alaska. There are times when I'm in the mood for haunting tales, and I'll make sure this is on my list.

Daryl 1/13/12, 10:27 AM  

I will keep this on the list but I am not sure when I'd read it, during these dreary winter months I need bright reads to contrast the gloom

Barbara 1/13/12, 10:56 AM  

Your highlighted imprint reads are always an eye-opener for me. This one sounds like my kind of book, and maybe I should have Dave read it since he has always said he wanted us to live in an isolated cabin somewhere in the north woods. (That's not going to happen if I have anything to do with it!)

Zibilee 1/13/12, 11:31 AM  

I had a hard time with this book. It was so bleak, and I didn't like the characters, as they were all so self involved and sort of jerky. I also was maddened by the ending. It just made me so angry that things wrapped up like that.

Wendy 1/13/12, 12:58 PM  

This was such a powerful book - thanks for the link to my review :)

Did you see that Vann has a new book coming out in 2012? Dirt by David Vann - Harper Collins (June 2012) / ISBN 9780062121035 / 272 pages

It is on my wish list :)

Beth F 1/13/12, 1:04 PM  

Thanks, Wendy, I didn't know there was another Vann book in the works. I know what I'm going to look for at BEA this year.

bermudaonion 1/13/12, 1:36 PM  

Wow, what a sad story. I'm fascinated since you said Alaska is like a character in its own right.

Unknown 1/13/12, 2:59 PM  

This sounds like a book I would like, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 1/13/12, 3:13 PM  

Might be a little too depressing for me. I would have to read this one in the summer, preferably on a sunny day.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick 1/13/12, 6:21 PM  

This was one of my favorite books, even though it was horribly depressing. But, there was something so honest in its approach and the relationships. I'll think about this one for quite some time.

Jennie 1/13/12, 7:31 PM  

I might have to check this one out. Sounds dark, but good.

Jenners 1/13/12, 8:39 PM  

I've read a few reviews of this and everyone says it is very depressing but very well done.

Sandy Nawrot 1/14/12, 7:23 AM  

I've got this book, but I just have to wait until I'm emotionally stable! Ha!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 1/14/12, 10:50 AM  

I was thinking just what Daryl said (above). Vann's writing will be on my list, but since it is so haunting and sharp, I'm likely to wait until warmer/sunnier weather to counter it.

Thanks for featuring this title, the Alaskan setting is an unusual backdrop for this couple's attempt at rediscovering each other.

dog eared copy 1/14/12, 11:26 AM  

Caribou Island feels very much like a Greek tragedy being played out on the Kenai Peninsula. There is a fatalistic inevitability to it all and, the grotesque play of fate and human deceits/fallibilities underscores the dark emotional timbre to the story. I listened to the audio edition narrated by Bronson Pinchot and he imbued each character with the right notes of pathos in a compelling performance (BTW, "compelling" in this case means you keep listening even if you're not sure you want to!)

dog eared copy 1/14/12, 11:33 AM  

P.S. I did post a link at the Harper Perennial link-up site, though it should be noted that I listened to the audiobook edition of the title. Still, the substance of the review is in regard to the book itself, with only a small paragraph regarding the narration.

Amy 1/14/12, 1:48 PM  

I've been wanting to read this for quite some time. Thanks for the review it reminded me I still want to read it! :)

Michelle 1/15/12, 4:48 PM  

This is truly one haunting book. I still remember how stunned I felt when I finished it, and I read it this past summer. Excellent prose and gorgeous descriptions of Alaska. It made me want to move there.

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