Microviews Vol. 9: David Vann, A.D. Miller

on Friday, February 18, 2011
It's been a while since I last posted and ages since I've whipped out a Microview. So killing two birds with one stone:

Caribou Island by David Vann

David Vann's 2009 collection of interlinked short stories, Legend of a Suicide, had many folks heralding the arrival of a new messiah. It was harsh, bleak and packed one heck of wallop... not unlike the works of the old literary messiah, Cormac McCarthy. Comparisons between the two were inevitable. Vann does with the frozen Alaskan plains what McCarthy has long done with the American wilderness; he uses the landscape to choke whoever is unfortunate enough to stumble upon it. Caribou Island is the chronicle of a marriage in freefall, punctuated by a brilliantly realised environment that can quite literally kill. Gary and Irene are building a log cabin on a remote island in an attempt to salvage their relationship. Unwise. Between the weather and the complete isolation, the difficulties are only magnified. Cabin fever sets in and the two unload all of their life's disappointments on each other. Back on the mainland their kids are living equally unhappy existences. Rhoda spends her time trying to please her unfaithful boyfriend in the hope that he might soon propose to her. Mark is a pathetic drifter who has given up on life altogether. Even the peripheral characters are unlikeable, beaten down by a brutally mundane reality. Life is hopeless, Vann seems to suggest, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either stupid or delusional. Caribou Island makes for a harrowing read but it lacks the oracular force of some of McCarthy's great work. Vann is certainly one to watch. The harshness of his Alaska almost explains the brain freeze that is Sarah Palin. But we need not be writing off the old messiah for now. To borrow from Monty Python, he's not dead yet!

Snowdrops by A. D. Miller

Despite the fact that he has consistently disappointed me since the sheer brilliance of his debut Ingenious Pain, Andrew Miller is one of those authors about whom I always get excited. Whenever I see he has a new book coming out I rush to my local store and put in an advance order. Then I count down the days til it arrives, drop everything when it does, and spend the next couple of days wondering why the hell I even bother. A few years ago I saw that he had a book coming out called The Earl of Petticoat Lane, a work of personal family history. Cool. Great name. Should be a little less disappointing. About half way through reading it, I realised it couldn't be the same Andrew Miller. The ages just didn't add up. I did a little digging and sure enough, it was another guy with the same name. I mustn't have been the only one, because now the second Andrew Miller has released his first novel and, to avoid confusion, has changed his moniker to A. D. Miller. Snowdrops is a slow-burning hymn to the corruption that has destroyed post-Glasnost Russia. Nick Platt, is the perfect patsy. A British lawyer living in Moscow, he get sucked in by the opulence of big Russian new money and hot Soviet sex vixens. He is also a massive dumbass. Even the most clueless reader will see that he is being played for a sucker by the girls who use him to facilitate a run of the mill property fraud long before it dawns on him. Ditto the oil field scam he gets caught up in professionally. Just like "snowdrops", the bodies of murder victims that only get discovered during the Summer thaw, these scams dawn on Platt when it's too late for him to do anything about them. There's an air of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels about this book, minus the comic brilliance of Steve Martin and Michael Caine. It seems the whole thing is leading up to a punchline but the joke is too long and when we finally get there we realise that we never really cared. Turns out both Andrew Millers can disappoint with equal gusto!


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