David Vann, Caribou Island
A terrifying noir tale of love and wilderness
If you happen to like tales of marriage, intrigue and a bit of lunacy — and especially if those tales are set in America’s 49th state — you could do a whole lot better than watching reruns of Sarah Palin’s Alaska. You could, for example, opt for David Vann’s debut novel Caribou Island, a terrifying and intricate noir tale of love and wilderness.
It begins with a late-mid-life crisis: Gary, a man with an ailing wife and thwarted ambitions, decides to build a log cabin by hand — the Alaskan version of a zippy red Porsche or an extramarital fling — at the center of a lake south of Anchorage. His wife agrees to help, though not with any particular vigor. Their daughter, a veterinary assistant plunged into her own troubles, frets vaguely about her parents. Meanwhile, the hostile, pre-modern wilderness surrounding Gary’s cabin begins to feel like the end of the world to his wife. And as any Stephen King reader knows, isolation can cast weird spells on people.
The most vivid presence in the book is Alaska, and Vann — a longtime resident of that state, now transplanted to San Francisco — brilliantly reveals the manners and morals of a secretive territory.