Fiction Caribou Island By David Vann Viking Pounds 8.99
David Vann's debut collection of stories, Legend of a Suicide, was one of the most brilliant pieces of fiction to be published in the past five years, and the proof copy of this, his first novel, comes with an array of ecstatic quotes from that first book plastered over it. "An American classic" and "jaw-droppingly powerful" are not even the most effusive, but for once the hype is justified. Legend of a Suicide was an instinctive and visceral fictional reworking of the true story of Vann's father's suicide when he was a teenager, with a twist in its central novella that had to be read to be believed.
Caribou Island, although it has to be said that it still packs an almighty punch, slightly lacks the brutal, shocking force of its predecessor. It is a more rounded and more ambitious work. It shares many features with Legend of a Suicide: the extreme nature of the Alaskan wilderness as a backdrop; the way the landscape mirrors and shapes the traumatic situations his characters find themselves in. There is also a running theme of the failed American dream, the idea that chasing an idealised way of living at one with nature will, ultimately, destroy you. And both books revolve around a disastrous and eventually violent relationship. In Legend of a Suicide it was the father-son bond; this time, it's the disintegration of a 30- year marriage.
The focus of Caribou Island is the relationship between Gary and Irene, a couple in their mid-50s who live at the end of a dirt track outside a remote Alaskan town. It's the end of the world, but it's not far enough from society for Gary, who has decided on behalf of the two of them that they are going to up sticks and build a new …