Saturday, May 19, 2012

DIRT by David Vann

Author David Vann
The year is 1985, and twenty-two-year-old Galen lives with his emotionally dependent mother in a secluded old house surrounded by a walnut orchard in a suburb of Sacramento. He doesn't know who his father is, his abusive grandfather is dead, and his grandmother, losing her memory, has been shipped off to a nursing home. Galen and his mother survive on the family's trust fund—old money that his aunt, Helen, and seventeen-year-old cousin, Jennifer, are determined to get their hands on. Galen, a New Age believer who considers himself an old soul, yearns for transformation: to free himself from the corporeal, to be as weightless as air, to walk on water. But he's powerless to stop the manic binges that overtake him, leading him to fixate on forbidden desires. A prisoner of his body, he is obsessed with thoughts of the boldly flirtatious Jennifer and dreams of shedding himself of the clinging mother whose fears and needs weigh him down. When the family takes a trip to an old cabin in the Sierras, near South Lake Tahoe, tensions crescendo. Caught in a compromising position, Galen will discover the shocking truth of just how far he will go to attain the transcendence he craves.
Review: It's difficult to argue with the resume of this author--impressive would be an understatement.  ABC review compares David Vann to Melville, Faulkner, and McCathy. Admittedly, I can see the rationale behind the claim.  If you like past works by those authors, it'd be plausible to assume you'll equally enjoy Dirt. The prose are more grounded than Melville and meander like Hemingway (without the purple), but have a similar grit and the southern Gothic edge of McCathy.  If you're looking for a punchy fast-paced horror, this is not it. However, if you want to sink into a deeper philosophical examination - choose this read.  And, when I mention philosophical, I mean get ready to contemplate dirt (lots of dirt), physical entrapment, as well as mental - the mind and flesh.  This is a 'thinking' story. Thematically, Dirt seems to contain endless possibilities. I've been mulling over the concept of the body as a prison verses the shed and also drawing in the setting of the walnut orchard. Then, there is the style and text. Why no quotes used for dialogue? This could make for an entire conversation on its own. Interesting, stylistic, and will get editors arguing for months. I love it!  It really is a critical analysis gem and a novel that should be explored in depth, dissected, discussed and placed on the college American Literature must read list. Exciting? That's debatable. Relevant? Absolutely! If you need to stretch your brain and don't want to lug a chunky 700+ book around, this is the perfect modern compromise. I'd recommend it for reading groups and book clubs that like to examine contemporary styles based on classic structures with philosophical examination, layered themes, setting and complex prose.
* ARC provided by Harper Collins courtesy of Amazon Vinetiny blue diamondtiny blue diamondtiny blue diamondtiny blue diamond

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