Legend of a Suicide
by David Vann
Harper Perennial, 2010
272 pages / $14.99 buy from Powell’s
1. If your father commits suicide, why did you write it as fiction?
2. It won 10 big awards and I bought it on EBay for three dollars, the price of half a 6 pack of Icehouse tall boys.
3. David Vann says, “I had this class once with Grace Paley in which she told us that every line in fiction has to be true. It has to be a distillation of experience, more true to a person’s life than any moment he or she actually lived. So this book is as true an account as I could write about my father’s suicide and my own bereavement, and that was possible only through fiction.”
4. Amazing descriptions of Alaska, the land, the ocean.
5. Some say experimental, but my god how conservative we must have become: there’s an abrupt (and startlingly effective) shift in POV, OK? OK.
6. Beer in a can has that metallic taste I enjoy.
7. Camus says, “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”
8. Suicides I have known: Christie, a former girlfriend. Andy, a kid who mooned the class in 8th grade and the suits decided to not let him graduate (a punishment we all believed was excessive even then) and shortly after he shot himself. Possibly my great-uncle ran his car into a wall, purposefully. There are stories. Suicide does not occur often in my family. Other things do.
9. For example: “Out in the channel, the lights of a convocation, twenty to thirty boats drawn together to wait for a storm to pass, for the time when they could leave the shallows and enter open ocean again. Their arrangement puzzled in a way that pleased, also: bright floodlights high up, small cabin lights, globes everywhere across their backs exposing the great nets, buffed aluminum, floats orange and red, all intermingled and reflected on waters calm as mirrors and no horizon visible, no clear seam for the surface, for water and air, reflection and light. And the only sound that of small bells, seeming to come from much further away, the bells high up on the lines of trawlers, the bells that signaled fish. No voices.”
10. I bet David Vann was pressured to make this into a memoir. Oh, I bet he was.
11. My father (the second one, not the one who left me) is reading another David Vann book, nonfiction in which David Vann builds a boat and sinks it, accidentally. My father says “This book is depressing.” I find it depressing my father thinks “This book is depressing” is a criticism of a book. But what can you do?
12. Lots of guns. Mostly he does guns well.
13. I say mostly because I dislike the scene where a gun makes a squirrel explode or rain down on the earth in squirrel shards. This always makes me feel the writer doesn’t know guns, not really. David Vann knows guns, I know that for a fact, but he doesn’t write them well in the squirrel scene. In the bear and deer scenes he writes them well. In the suicide, too.
14. Some people call it a novel, for marketing reasons. It is NOT a novel.
15. On my third beer now. I can feel my pulse in my left ear and the attic is groaning with the October wind.
16. What matters is what a writer does with an experience, not what genre they prefer. For fuck’s sake, people.
17. I shot my uncle once with a shotgun, accidentally. I was shooting at a large water moccasin sunning itself on a railroad track. Several of the shot curled about the inner aspects of the rails and went flying into the nearby air. Don’t shoot at hard surfaces, people. I shot my uncle, OK.
18. The novella “Sukkwan Island” is written (the words, structure, artistry) so well a person could argue the remainder of the book is a form of wrapping about that one text. Or maybe the novella is some core. Like lead, maybe. The center of an artillery shell? The heart of a fish? The eggs?
19. Icehouse isn’t a worthy beer, but I like it OK. My dad (the second one, not the one who left me) used to say, “People drink beer for one reason.”
20. Hemingway also wrote about hunting and fishing and landscapes (“country” he called it) and his father, who committed suicide with a gun.
21. David Vann writes, “My father gave me my first gun at age seven.”.
22. In one story his dad is like this amorphous form the family carries about, deals with, feeds. In another story the narrator breaks into his own house and tries to figure out who he actually is, through his own belongings. I mean there’s some bad-ass stuff in here. Keen, as in sharp.
23. DFW says, “The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
24. Having a beer always makes me want to have a beer.
25. It’s the kind of book that you hold for a moment after finishing. You might even smell it or want to call someone or maybe go for a walk. It wakes you up a little. You know what I mean.