Dirt by David Vann
|Dirt by David Vann|
|Genre: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A dark and violent look at how a mind is tipped into madness. It's not an easy read but it's certainly compelling. David Vann popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: June 2012|
|Publisher: William Heinemann|
|External links: Author's website|
We're back in the mid-nineteen-eighties in a suburb of Sacramento and Galen lives with his mother on the family walnut farm. The farm's not what it was, largely having been left to its own devices since the death of Galen's abusive grandfather some years before. Galen's father is something of an unknown quantity - his mother won't even discuss who he was or tell Galen anything about him, but then she's able to shut her mind to most things which she finds unpleasant. Her mother has been moved from the farm to a nursing home - she's still quite active but her memory is going. Suzie-Q's sister, Helen is determined to get her hands on the family money for the benefit of her seventeen-year-old daughter, Jennifer.
There is some money but Suzie-Q is hoarding it, ostensibly because of the nursing-home fees which will need to be paid until her mother dies. She and Galen - now twenty two - survive (if you can call it that) on money paid out by the family trust for the upkeep of the farm. Galen's always been told that there isn't the money for him to go to college and, in all honesty, you do wonder if he wants to go back to school or if he could make the most of it if he went. He's not the most mature personality: fun is dressing up as a green walnut for a family event or repeating ad nauseam something his grandmother used to say at a particular place. It doesn't matter that no one finds it funny and you know that Galen only does it to be aggravating. He'd have you think that he's a New Age believer, wanting to free himself from the restraints of his earthly body. Only his mother seems to be taken in by him, but then she's just shutting out another unpalatable fact.
It could have gone on in this way for quite some time but the catalyst comes in a trip to the family cabin in the Sierras, when Galen is found by his mother in a sexually-compromising situation and the family implodes.
I seem to have told you quite a lot about the plot, but I haven't really. David Vann has a talent for being able to pack a lot into very few words - and to make them all effective and forceful. I'm not going to suggest that this is an easy read - it's anything but - but then that's not what we've come o expect from Vann. I first encountered his work when I read Legend of a Suicide, a series of interlinked stories which at one point packs one of the heaviest literary punches I've met in a long time. It was followed by Caribou Island which has a similarly dark theme.
It might not be an easy read but it's certainly compelling. If I start reading Vann I know that I'm going to have to keep reading no matter how painful, how distressing the story. When I first encountered his work I did wonder if Vann might be overly reliant on his own father's suicide as the inspiration for his writing but Dirt has laid that fear to rest. There's the same preoccupation with violence but what marks this book out as being something special is the forensic examination of the tipping point at which a disturbed mind, an unfocused mind tumbles into madness.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If this book appeals then we think you might also enjoy The Tyrant by Jacques Chessex.
David Vann was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.