A life marked by the continuous attempt to understand a father who is incapable of finding his place in this world—odd in his approach to interfamilial relationships and much too immature—spurred the birth of this novel inside which David Vann pieces back together parts of his father’s life, in order to discover him beyond the deeds and gestures that can no longer be changed, all in an attempt to make peace with himself. To a certain degree, this is an autobiographical novel. It is actually a novel about the inner reality that has as its starting point the familial reality of its author.
Thus, the author, whose equivalent in the book is the character Roy, remembers his childhood marked by his parents’ divorce, by the moments he spent near his mother’s many lovers and his father’s second wife. Also marked by his relationship with his father, the author imagines an experience in his company on an island in Alaska, as a way to find an answer to a life marred by selfishness, deceit and often immorality, all of which he witnessed as a child. Although I do not subscribe to judging a book by its covers, I must admit that the grim photograph of the collapsed teddy bear that seems to have been through a horrible fight, along with the intriguing title, made me slip into the trap of prejudice and, for that reason alone, before even entering the world of the novel, my mind began weaving the image of the death of a young creature. After reading the first pages, I realized that it was not about an extreme gesture coming from a damaged mind, but about the sum total of various motivations, about sometimes faulty but no less real individual perceptions, about a complex situation, a hostile environment, and about people who are so alive that the fictional truth competes with the existential one.
Beginning with the first part (a series of fragmented memories of the child), the father reveals his capacity to evaluate his own way of life and to understand the influence his gestures exert upon those around him. Roy will be the most affected by the father (a fact reflected in the child’s behavior: breaking the street lamps, breaking and entering into the neighbor’s house, or wrecking his own home). Thinking of himself as partially guilty for his father’s suicidal gesture, the author does not hesitate to present in a direct manner those moments during which, in spite of loving him, he perceived his father as a burden, an annoying addition to his life. The desire to find an answer to his father’s suicidal gesture becomes manifest when the two characters reach the imagined cabin on Sukkwan island, in the middle of an untamed environment, the only place where Vann can explore his father’s life-long attraction toward the “spirit of the frontier,” but also his inability to fit in society. The first person narration is replaced by the third person, as the author now chooses an objective perspective on the adult who reveals himself in all his smallness. The cries at night, the attempted suicide on the mountain, the outbursts of rage during the conversations with Rhoda, his ex-wife who decides to end all contact with him, the fact that he gives up easily when faced with a physical obstacle, all end by forcing Jim to face himself. The image of a lively world will not save him, as his son’s suicidal gesture surprises him more than it surprises the reader, who has little time to comprehend the fiction inside of which he or she entered upon entering ‘Sukkawn Island’.
His inability to accept reality, his desire to preserve untouched his son’s body, the obsessive focus on survival, the burning of the island, the burial, the rejection of everybody upon re-entering society, will force the father—in the last fictional scenario his son creates—to accept his own guilt: on his way to Mexico, in his attempt to escape the accusations of the police, Jim realizes that he has ruined his son’s life and decides to turn himself in. Coming back to society would have revived the former Jim, so the author decides to end the character’s life strangled by the boat’s owners, so that death presents itself as the only solution to understanding and accepting reality.
The last two parts of the novel introduce Roy’s life 30 years later, still subject to the past. He returns to Alaska where the father’s real suicide took place and afterwards in Ketchikan where he finds a job at a salmon farm. He talks to his father’s mistress, to whom he can’t bring himself to reveal his true identity. The return to the first person narrative does away with the liberating nature of the fictional area, delivering the reader back to the reality of the character who will now metaphorically sum up the relationship with his father by means of the kitchen scene, narrated in third person and ending with the son released from the influence of his own father, a moment that highlights the author’s liberation from the past. The author ends the novel with the image of the father, now forgiven by everyone and especially by his own son.
(translated by Ioana Lionte and Liana Andreasen)
Varianta în limba română pe www.alecart.ro, Alecart 11.