Legend of a Suicide
In “Ichthyology,” a young boy watches his father spiral from divorce to suicide. The story is told obliquely, often through the boy’s observations of his tropical fish, yet also reveals his father’s last desperate moves, including quitting dentistry for commercial fishing in the Bering Sea. “Rhoda” goes back to the beginning of the father’s second marriage and the boy’s fascination with his stepmother, who has one partially closed eye. This eye becomes a metaphor for the adult world the boy can’t yet see into, including sexuality and despair, which feel like the key initiating elements of the father’s eventual suicide. “A Legend of Good Men” tells the story of the boy’s life with his mother after his father’s death through the series of men she dates.
In “Sukkwan Island,” an extraordinary novella, the father invites the boy homesteading for a year on a remote island in the southeastern Alaskan wilderness. As the situation spins out of control, the son witnesses his father’s despair and takes matters into his own hands. In “Ketchikan,” the boy is now thirty years old, searching for the origin of ruin. He tracks down Gloria, the woman his father first cheated with, and is left with the sense of “a world held in place, as it turned out, by nothing at all.” Set in Fairbanks, where the author’s father actually killed himself, “The Higher Blue” provides an epilogue to the collection.
"Vann looks into the dark and isolated heart of the American soul. It is a devastating journey that is difficult to read but impossible to put down and equally impossible to forget."—San Francisco Chronicle
"The reportorial relentlessness of Vann's imagination often makes his fiction seem less written than chiseled. A small, lovely book has been written out of his large and evident pain. 'A father, after all,' Vann writes, 'is a lot for a thing to be.' A son is also a lot for a thing to be; so is an artist. With Legend of a Suicide, David Vann proves himself a fine example of both."—New York Times Book Review
"Vann’s extraordinary and inventive set of fictional variations on his father’s death will surely become an American classic."—Times Literary Supplement
"Extraordinary. . . . Vann’s prose is as pure as a gulp of water from an Alaskan stream."—Financial Times