Book Review: 'Caribou Island' David Vann's Caribou Island tells the bleak tale of an aging couple who retreat to Alaska to rebuild their lives, and find themselves physically and emotionally isolated.
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Book Review: 'Caribou Island'

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Book Review: 'Caribou Island'

Book Review: 'Caribou Island'

Book Review: 'Caribou Island'

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David Vann's Caribou Island tells the bleak tale of an aging couple who retreat to Alaska to rebuild their lives, and find themselves physically and emotionally isolated.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Alaska is a magnificent place full of natural beauty. It's also a vast unforgiving landscape full of places where humans can find themselves isolated and lonely. In short, it is the perfect setting for a novel.

Alan Cheuse has this review of "Caribou Island" from writer David Vann.

ALAN CHEUSE: The first fall storm, blasts of wind and rain. A 30-degree drop in temperature, the sky gone dark, a malevolence, a beast physical and intent.

Here in David Vann's Alaska, everything is growing colder by the day, by the hour.

At the center of this turbulent story about the disintegration and death of love stands an isolated island in the center of a large Alaskan lake. Here, as the season turns toward winter, a husband and wife, Gary and Irene, have hauled logs from the far shore to build a cabin, a shelter for the rest of their lives, or so Gary sees it.

An emotionally isolated scholar of Old English who came to Alaska with Irene decades ago, this bitter-minded husband recites ancient epics into the rising wind, while hammering logs together badly to make this island home. He's a dark soul, a champion of regret, the novelist calls him.

Irene has a troubled mind. As a young girl, she came home from school to find her mother hanging by the neck, and that dark image became the signature of the rest of her life. The remorse of her Alaskan exile and the way it cuts into the last days of her marriage becomes the main narrative line of this novel.

Despite multiple story lines, which, like those logs Gary hauls out to the island for his cabin, appear somewhat badly nailed together, "Caribou Island" builds to an horrific climax and stands as an engrossing and disturbing work of art.

SIEGEL: David Vann is the author of "Caribou Island." Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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