Longlisted for Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize
“Raw and heartbreaking…Generously sharing a poignant, powerful story, Vann’s evocative words help us understand the erratic and illogical thinking associated with mental illness; we become witnesses to a man stuck in a tunnel of pain while his helpless family cannot reach him.”— Katherine Read, San Francisco Examiner
“The internationally acclaimed Vann’s (Bright Air Black, 2017) latest novel finds him imagining the last days of his father, Jim, before his suicide. It begins with Jim, struggling with deep depression, being taken away from the seclusion of his life in Fairbanks, Alaska, to be around his family and friends in Northern California. Plagued by insomnia, pursued by the IRS, and constantly in pain from sinus trouble, Jim is chaperoned by his reluctant brother, Gary, as he drifts around the beautifully described landscape obsessing over his past and his seemingly inevitable suicide. As he comes to increasingly resent his therapist, Jim is aware but unable to stop the disturbing ripple effects of his manic depression, namely, what his words and actions do to his children, his parents, and his ever-faithful brother. While the subject is in some ways reminiscent of Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude (1982), Vann’s unrelentingly harrowing descriptions of Jim’s depressive state recalls David Foster Wallace’s darkest moments. Mixing beautiful prose with unremitting bleakness, this difficult, deeply moving work will affect all who read it.” — Alexander Moran, Booklist
“Vann draws on his own family’s history for this affecting novel of a man grappling with deep depression. Jim, the protagonist of this psychologically detailed novel, is a man who’s reached the limits of his life. He’s deeply in debt to the IRS, his marital history is bleak, and he’s contemplating suicide. As the novel opens, he’s traveled from Alaska to California to spend time with his family—notably, his younger brother, Gary, who seems to have succeeded in all of the areas where Jim has come up short. “Jim envies his younger brother, not only his youth and looks and the women but also his simplicity,” Vann writes early on, and this neatly establishes a contrast between the two men. As Jim revisits people who have known him for much of his life, a gradual tension emerges in their interactions. Is he there to seek relief for his depression or to cut ties with those closest to him, pushing them away before the end of his life? Given its subject matter, this is not an easy read. Vann’s portrait of a man convinced that his course of self-destruction is inevitable makes for numerous chilling and unsettling moments. There is also an element of autofiction present here: One of Jim’s children shares the author’s name, and Jim and Gary spend time discussing the origins of their surname. What endures the most from this novel is the sense of desperation that emerges from its central character—a feeling that’s at once profoundly alienated from everything and everyone around it and heartbreakingly tactile. A moving portrait of a family dealing with loss before it happens and of the harrowing ways depression can disrupt countless lives.” –Kirkus
U.S. publisher’s description (Grove Atlantic): Hailed as “a writer to read and reread” (Economist), who “tracks the same wild territory as Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy” (Observer), New York Times Notable author David Vann delivers a darkly intimate portrait of a man teetering on the precipice of life and death.
In his riveting new novel, internationally bestselling New York Times Notable author and Prix Medicis étranger-winner David Vann reimagines his father’s final days. Halibut on the Moontraces the roots of mental illness in one man’s life as he attempts to anchor himself to the places and people that once shaped his sense of identity.
Middle-aged and deeply depressed, Jim arrives in California from Alaska and surrenders himself to the care of his brother Gary, who intends to watch over him. Swinging unpredictably from manic highs to extreme lows, Jim wanders ghost-like through the remains of his old life attempting to find meaning in his tattered relationships with family and friends. As sessions with his therapist become increasingly combative and his connections to others seem ever more tenuous, Jim is propelled forward by his thoughts, which have the potential to lead him, despairingly, to his end.
Halibut on the Moon is a searing exploration of a man held captive by the dark logic of depression and struggling mightily to wrench himself free. In vivid and haunting prose, Vann offers us an aching portrait of a mind in peril, searching desperately for some hope of redemption.
Foreign editions: Australia and New Zealand, France, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey.