This book comes with a fair weight of expectation. Most of the bloggers I follow that have read it have raved about it and the folks at the publishers have been gushing ever since they opened the box and first laid eyes on the cover art.
So you start with not quite an open mind but one prepared to be wowed and Vann doesn’t disappoint. I have seen some people describe it almost as a collection of short stories and it has that feel it also has a memoir type mood as the author goes back relatively briefly over the life of the father before the moment when he decides to opt for suicide.
The consequences for those he leaves behind in terms of the first wife are covered in detail and some backwards storyline also brings things relatively up to date with the second failed marriage. So you have read the first couple of chapters and learnt that a restless dentist in Alaska ended up going through a couple of marriages, ran from the tax man and loved hunting and fishing before deciding to end his life on a boat out at sea with just his brother for company.
Suicide is such a difficult subject and quite where the story will go next is perhaps the moment when Vann changes direction. You could have expected a delve into a sob story of how the son went looking for a father relationship to try and put some concrete into what are misty memories. But Vann sets up a fictional story of the same father and son being alone in the wilderness in the wilds of Alaska.
In those conditions there is nowhere to hide yet the father continues to wrap himself in his own problems and doesn’t seem to notice the needs or suffering of the son. They say that suicide is selfish and certainly in this section of the book the father is selfish to the extent that you are rooting for the son Roy and wishing he could escape the one on one time with his suicidal father.