A NovelBook - 2011
From the critics
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Since Sarah Palin’s arrival on the pop culture scene, the public’s vision of Alaska has taken on some cartoonish elements. Anyone wishing a mental palette cleanser would do well to pick up David Vann’s *Caribou Island*. Vann’s Alaska is monumental in scale, willing to devour its residents in the blink of an eye. In a novel with no clear protagonist, Alaska’s presence colours the book almost more than its characters; the noumenal cold grips mountains and stunted boreal forest, binding a family with no other common ground.
Gary and Irene moved to Alaska in search of wilderness and frontier life. Neither is sure why they’ve stayed so long, both blame the other. Their children have also failed to move on since growing up, staying in their small fishing town when peers moved south for careers or to escape the social determinism of small town life. All feel stuck, seeking solace in the idea of a perfect family to pass the time. The amazing thing about *Caribou Island* is the grace with which Vann approaches his characters – none are perfect, but all are written so empathically that the reader cannot locate just one character in which to invest sympathy. Truly horrid and dark things happen, all of them with understandable motives. In this sense, *Caribou Island* has great potential as a book club choice. Readers attracted to authors with a very particular style may also find much to love. *Caribou Island* is written in small, bleak sentence fragments that render landscape and characters in monumental, broad strokes. In sheer terms of bleak isolation in the boreal forest, David Vann’s *Caribou Island* rivals the darkest of CanLit from the 1970s and 1980s. In other words, this is the perfect book to read if you really want to savour the bitter depths of winter.
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