Ever dream of packing it all up and leaving the city? Go to someplace remote and start a new life. Living off the land, fending for yourself. Living the life you know you were supposed to live. Everyone has had that dream at some point in their life, including me. Except in my dream, I'm in a log cabin with a TV, internet, and near a grocery store. I'm not actually into some of the harder aspects like chopping wood, storing food for the winter, catching fish, or hunting animals. Would I actually do it? I don't know. Maybe after I've lived my life, you know after getting married, having kids, visit Africa, visit Australia, visited all 50 states, and so many other things.
Sukkwan Island: A Novella from Legend of Suicide by David Vann flips that idyllic vision that most people have. Instead we have a dark and sometimes difficult to read tale. Jim and his son Roy pack up everything and move to a remote Alaskan island. The move is Jim's dream, which is forced upon Roy. You can sense right away that this is a strained relationship. Jim is more into the lifestyle than Roy. A year away from civilization is supposed to be a fun bonding experience, but it just drives them further apart.
"Roy didn't feel any closer to his father than he had on their occasional vacations and he wondered if this would change at all."
At times Roy seems like the parent, and Jim is the immature, emotional child. Roy is doing the bulk of the work, gathering wood, catching fish, and cooking. While Jim moves from project to project, and ends each night crying. All Roy wants to do is escape. Was moving away the right decision? Is it right for a parent to force their dream on their child.?
"There was nothing Roy could think of to say, so he didn't say anything. But he wondered why they were here at all, when everything important to his father was somewhere else."
Told from Roy and Jim's point of view the story offers a complex dichotomy of how they see the world. Roy is more rational about life. He wonders why someone would choose to live this way. All they have is each other, but sometimes they don't even talk. Dinners are in silence. Roy is equally sullen, coming to resent his father. The ending of the first half of the story is a big shocker. I can't be specific, but it was definitely a direction I wasn't expecting.
In the second half, it's Jim's turn to narrate and we actually learn his name after having Roy call him "father" the whole time. My view of Jim didn't change didn't when it was his turn to narrate. His thoughts seem just as scatterbrained as Roy described. Only when he was forced to did Jim realize how much he needs Roy or that Roy's feelings mattered. When push comes to shove he faces reality.
As a whole, the story is depressing but well told. The reading experience was totally different for me since this was an e-book. Normally I find a comfy position on the couch and read my book. Since I don't have an e-reader I had to read this on my laptop. Not the best experience for my first e-book, but fortunately that didn't cloud my opinion of the story!
Notes: I was pointed to this free e-book by the publisher HarperCollins. The book is available for free until Jan. 25. Check out the following links of you would like to read this novella: