Dirt by David Vann

Posted April 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Dirt by David VannTitle: Dirt (Goodreads)
Author: David Vann
Published: Harper Collins, 2012
Pages: 260
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Galen is a 22 year old who is still living with his emotionally dependant mother instead of going off to college or living life. He has no idea who his father is.  His grandmother is losing her memory which is leaving his mother and him living on the family trust, old money which his aunt Helen wants. With a keen interest in Buddhism, Galen wishes to free himself from the corporeal but he is trapped by his dysfunctional family and his fleshly desires weigh him down.

Dirt is not an easy book to read, portraying a violently dysfunctional family, with no likeable characters. While Galen tries so hard to live a different lifestyle, it is clear that he has a lot more meditation to do. His constant desire for his boldly flirtatious 17 year old cousin, Jennifer, often leads him into trouble. Giving into his fleshly desires leads to the catalyst of this novel.

Because his grandmother is losing her memory, aunt Helen and her daughter work to try and get as much money out of her as possible. Without a care for anyone but themselves they are both physically and emotionally violent towards Galen and his mother. The grandmother will never remember and they can continue to manipulate her to write more checks for them.

Galen’s mother is so emotionally dependant that, despite having the money, she has constantly told her son they can’t afford to send him to college and she needs his help to run the walnut orchard. Yet there is a part of her that hates her son, even physically scared of him. So when she catches Galen having sex with Jennifer she found her way out. Telling him that he was going to report him to the police for statutory rape, that way she can live her life and pretend she doesn’t have a son.

This is the part that didn’t feel right to me; while the sex scenes between Galen and Jennifer were disturbing and is probably what everyone dislikes about this novel, it’s the conflicting message of his mother that really annoyed me. She came across as dependent of her son and scared to be alone, but when she has the chance to send him to prison she took it. I know he was wrong and he probably should pay for his actions, but to me it felt like she just turned against him and was so full of hate toward her son all of a sudden. Maybe it was seeing Galen with another woman that set her off, knowing that he was no longer hers and he was now a man but I never really felt that came across well enough. It was missing the motivations behind her actions, but this may also be the unreliable first person narrator.

This is dark and disturbing with senses of incest, so this might not be a book for everyone. I really like David Vann and I was physically disturbed by the dysfunctionality of this family. There is a real sense of hopelessness with each character, while the first person narrative didn’t give much opportunity to explore this, it did give an overall picture. Galen is a creepy sociopath and while he tries to better himself, he is always a victim of his own actions. I liked this book but I fully support why people don’t; you really have to be prepared to handle the violence and madness of Dirt.

0 responses to “Dirt by David Vann

  1. Sam_TinyLibrary

    I don’t mind the themes of a book like this or even if all the characters are unlikeable, as long as the book is well written. I think the conflicting messages from the mother would bother me, too.

  2. Mish

    I had this on my to read list not really knowing a great deal about it. Yes it does sound rather uncomfortable & disturbing but I’m prepared to give it a go.

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