What Caribou Island is, is a novel about a family on the Kenai Peninsula whose quotidian routines (begotten of never-ending regret and frustration) are disturbed as Gary, the patriarch of the family, decides to build a cabin in an even more remote area off of the peninsula. His wife, Irene, the unwilling accomplice in the ill-conceived plan, assumes her role of martyr on a scale not seen since the days of Greek Tragedy, suffering from inexplicable and severe headaches and, the conviction that her husband is taking steps to leave her. Gary and Irene’s daughter, Rhoda, is the Cassandra of this epic, eddying around in her parents’ wake as her perceptive concern blinds her to her own domestic situation. And then there is Mark, Rhoda’s brother, the erstwhile fisherman and career stoner, blithely unconcerned with the fates of those surrounding him.
David Vann’s writing is figuratively photo-realistic, portraying setting and characters vividly (mosquitoes, warts and all;)but you may have cause to want to expunge those images from your mind by the time the book has ended. It’s all a bit dark in timbre and the big scene is surreal and graphic (though no surprise to those familiar with David Vann’s previous work.) The setting may be gorgeous; but none of the people are likable and; there is nothing funny or happy about this story. Caribou Island is a tragedy set in modern context and as such the listener can expect to see an exposition of immutable fate and impotent people. There is no antidote in this story, no convincing argument that the events as they unfolded were not inevitable and no solace that the reader or listener is really inherently different from the characters in the book. There is little to take away from the story other than we may be living out our own modern tragedies.
Bronson Pinchot’s narration hits all the right notes, imbuing each character with distinction and pathos. If I were to fault him for anything, it would be for the voice of Monique, a young seductress. Monique doesn’t sound natural, somehow at odds with the quality of the rest of the narration.
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