Ian Colford’s Reviews >  Legend of a Suicide: Stories

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Legend of a Suicide: Stories by David Vann

Read in December 2016

4 of 5 stars

David Vann makes no secret of the fact that his father’s suicide provides the seed for this book. However, the stories in the collection are in no sense a literal rendering of the events that led his father to take his own life. Rather, one can understand them as a form of therapy or a means to confront and take control of a traumatic and life-shaping experience. What seems to be going on here is that Vann is addressing and interpreting his father’s suicide in a series of fictional treatments. Some appear to deal more or less squarely with the man’s life and character. Others take a sidelong perspective, approaching the issue via an exploration of father-son relationships. Vann’s fictional stand-in is Roy Fenn, who we encounter as both a boy and a man. Roy’s father, like the author’s father, was a dentist who hated his profession, a man who loved the outdoors and who because he grew to know himself too late, made a series of blunders and fatal miscalculations in his personal life that led to estrangement from his family and financial ruin. The stories depict the fallout from Roy’s father’s poor decisions: an affair with a woman named Rhoda, the receptionist at his dental practice, the purchase of a boat and an ill-fated attempt to make a living as a fisherman. Most striking and memorable is the long two-part story “Sukkwan Island.” The story takes place after the breakup of the family. Roy is thirteen and his father takes him homesteading on remote Sukkwan Island, in south-eastern Alaska. Roy’s father’s second marriage to Rhoda has also failed, because of his compulsive womanizing, though he has not given up on the relationship. The plan is that Roy and his father will deal with the hardships of winter alone together in a tiny cabin in almost complete isolation from civilization and human contact. However, over the long months of their confinement the father’s haphazard preparation, obsessive nature and myriad character flaws surface again and again, finally overwhelming the situation in which the two find themselves, with tragic results. Throughout the book the writing is suspenseful, tersely observant, sometimes poetic, always engaging. Legend of a Suicide is a book of great originality and power that depicts human weakness and its consequences unflinchingly. In the end however it is about survival, forgiveness and acceptance.