4 Stars - Strongly Recommend (Specifically for the Novella "Sukkwan Island")
How I love the ladies at Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of "Legends of a Suicide". This is a book I may never have picked up on my own, so I am very thankful to them for the opportunity to review it.
David Vann's family has been surrounded by suicide. At a young age, his father took his own life, his step mother's parents died by murder/suicide, and his grandmother found her mother dead by self-hanging. David had a hard time accepting and believing in his fathers death. This novel, which he dedicates to his father, has allowed him to bring his dad back to life, momentarily, and given him the ability to finally say goodbye.
The back cover blurb really does not do the book justice at all. It states:
Semiautobiographical stories set largely in Alaska...follow Roy Fen from his birth on an island at the edge of the Bering Sea to his return thirty years later to confront the turbulent emotions and complex legacy of his father's suicide.
What it fails to tell is how absolutely twisted and confusing the stories can be. And how utterly raw and painful they can get. In a good way!
A collection of 5 short stories and one fairly long novella, Legends of a Suicide introduces us to the world of a young boy who is forced to witness his fathers slip into depression. Cheating, jumping from job to job, falling into and out of his son's life, we follow along through each story, mostly told from the boys point view.
"Ichthyology" recounts certain memories from the boys life; His birth; his sometimes unhealthy obsession with owning, and killing, fish (which tends to pop up in each story); his parents divorce; and working on a fishing boat with his father and uncle.
"Rhoda" introduces us to the boy's stepmother, and the relationship she and his father have.
"A Legend of Good Men" lists all the men his mother took up with after the divorce, in the order of their appearance.
"Kerchikan" outlines the boy's return to his hometown and the place of his father's death, in which he seeks out the very first woman his father cheated with.
"The Higher Blue" is more or less the epilogue, where the boy is thinking back on some good, and not so good, memories of his father.
The magic, however, is completely rolled up in Vann's novella "Sukkwan Island", which makes it's grand entrance smack in the middle of these short stories. It momentarily throws the reader for a loop, jumbling up the story sequence just a bit, contradicting what we had been told up to this point, taking you on a very different path... which had me so confused, that at one point, I reread quite a few pages to convince myself that I had read the story correctly.
It is heartbreaking, heartwrenching, beautiful, painful, and raw. Starting out with the point of view of the boy, who is forced to listen to his father's mental breakdown until he can no longer take it, it suddenly changes over to the point of view of the father, a broken and confused man, who is now forced to survive something no parent should ever have to live through.
Sukkwan Island makes this book worth reading. It could very well stand on it's own. It's brillantly written by a man who understands what it is like to lose someone you love, and that sometimes, no matter what you do, you may never be able to get over it.