Reviews of Dirt

Trouw (Netherlands) Best Books of the Year 2012

Observer Best Books of the Year 2012

New Statesman Best Books of the Year 2012.  “By far the most intense experience I had as a reader this year was with David Vann’s Dirt. Words and ideas seem almost dangerous in his hands and yet his work is full of heart. For me that’s probably the definition of perfection in fiction.”

“It’s a novel about trying to escape the body; about degradation at the hands of age and family and greed and lust.  It’s “about” these themes in the same way a day is “about” its own weather, its heat or chill or quality of light, which is to say the story feels suffused with these struggles; they charge and contour its every moment, its every twitch or twist or gesture…Brave and brilliant…DIRT is showing us something unexpected, and unexpectedly stunning.”–San Francisco Chronicle

“Brilliant…This is a novel of violence, destruction and ruin. There is no salvation. And yet Mr Vann’s soaring writing carries it forward—a reminder of the beauty that can grace even the beastliest things.”–The Economist

“Vann’s gift – his quest, almost – is a willingness to explore the unimaginable, the unthinkable, on the page. He is the real thing – a mature, risk-taking and fantastically adept fiction writer who dares go to the darkest places, explore their most appalling corners. I haven’t read a novel as rough and shocking or, importantly, as wise and warm as this one in a long time. It’s not safe and it doesn’t seek our approval – and I’ve certainly no idea what Vann wants us to think or feel about it. But isn’t that a plausible definition of truly great writing: a piece of work that leaves our heads and hearts in flux – rolling, churning and, if we’re lucky, changing?”–The Observer

“Vann has an extravagantly literary sensibility, and his novel is full of echoes: One thinks of the stately inevitability of classical tragedy, of Chekhov’s lost souls, of the hallucinatory quality of Faulkner’s rural fantasia, and of Stephen King’s depictions of an unraveling mind. “Dirt” evokes the pre-modern sense of ancestral sins, the way we are irrevocably shaped by events before our time and beyond our control.”–The Washington Post

“If you’ve been looking in the right places, you’ve seen David Vann’s name everywhere recently.  In less than four years, he has published four books. This fact alone is impressive for any writer who aims to produce anything above the level of pulp and schlock; it’s so much more impressive once you realize that each of Vann’s four books is excellent enough to have been the only book he published during this span of time….Brave is a word that gets used too much to describe too many novelists these days. Usually, writers win the adjective merely by showing brief glimpses of vile realms, physical, emotional, or spiritual; rarely do their characters ever do more than peer curiously into the depths before recovering their senses, though perhaps not without a few lasting effects. Vann, on the other hand, truly is brave, because he is never satisfied with simply leading us by the hand a few feet down the rabbit hole; no, he stuffs us down with the butt end of a pitchfork and refuses to let us out until we’ve breathed in the black dirt at the very bottom. We may not enjoy the experience — in fact, we may wish he would be less brave — but there is no denying that we emerge indelibly affected.” Philadelphia Enquirer

“The last hundred pages of Dirt are as audacious and uncompromising a piece of writing as I’ve read in a long time. Vann is a brave writer, daring to write about and depict things that most other authors would baulk at, but that’s what makes him so good – that unflinching eye for the darkness you could potentially find in any of us, given the wrong chain of events. If you want to feel good about the human condition, go elsewhere. If you want the naked, awful truth, then dive in.” Independent on Sunday

“The characters in Dirt read as archetypes, figures in a Beckett play: Galen, the boy who seeks escape; nursing-home-grandma, whose fading memory suggests the unbelievability of the past; Galen’s mother, Suzie-Q, who wants what all mothers want: to be loved, not bothered; aunt insane, who demands the money she knows is locked in a trust; Galen’s teen cousin, a sadist who uses the one thing she’s got to tease virgin Galen, thus representing the temptations of a fallen world. The resulting sex scenes are stunning, a dirty taboo pitched to comic perfection…The last pages of Dirt are lit by a berserk energy. It’s as if Vann has pulled off the trick of putting us inside a Hitchcock maniac…When you finally put this book down, break the spell and walk away, you’re left with a deeper resonance, a lingering sadness. It’s a sense that here is where the great American drive west culminates: with a boy and his mom fighting over whatever wealth remains.”  Financial Times

“Vann’s rendering of the everyday gratings of family life is pitch-perfect. But he’s never shied away from the brutal and so the endless cycle of small family hurts is escalated into hatred and violence as Galen, his mother, aunt and cousin pit themselves against one another in an outlandish, horrifying and apocalyptic battle…A well-written, unflinching exploration of the often terrifying chasm between who we want to be, and who we actually are.” Sunday Telegraph

“Vann’s celebrated 2008 collection, “Legend of a Suicide,” established him as a fearless navigator of dark themes. His new novel, set in a desolate stretch of California’s Central Valley in 1985, cements that reputation.”  The New York Times

“With Dirt, Vann reinforces his position as he brilliantly portrays the pitch-dark human psyche.  He has an absolutely superb writing style, as fluid as it is precise.” Dagbladet (Norway)

“When I first heard David Vann had a new novel coming out I was filled with shovelfuls of excitement…Vann’s use of dirt as a trope throughout the novel is brilliant: It functions as imagery, symbolism, plot device, mise en scène and character development, and precipitates some of the best writing…This author does for dirt what King Lear and Oedipus Rex did for sight and what Patrick Süskind did for scent…You can’t put this book down once you start it.”  The Globe and Mail

“What Vann does so well is to take recognisably ordinary characters and put them in critical situations, where tiny decisions or actions have life-altering outcomes. This is what gives his books their nightmarish quality — the feeling that these events could happen to anyone.” Irish Independent

“David Vann’s new novel takes us to the heart of human desire and its propensity towards greed despite our best intentions. Passages are horrid, sections are uncomfortable, characters are barely likeable – this is a difficult book to love, but it’s an easy one to admire because Vann’s observations are drenched in a truth we daren’t acknowledge.”  Booktrust

“Vann has a remarkable gift for capturing the harsh realities of a family held together by hate and violence. Riveting and impossible to put down.”  Library Journal (starred review)

“Aarde is an extreme book, that, in its psychological depiction of hell, goes even further than anything that Vann has written before.Yet, there is still a certain tenderness in the book.” – De Morgen (4.5 out of 5 stars) (Dutch language edition of Dirt)

“With precise, sober sentences, Vann manages to steer the bitter tragedy between mother and son towards a gruesome low point. Not for sensitive readers.” – KNACK (4 out of 5 stars) (Dutch language edition of Dirt)

“As an insight in the mind of a troubled 22-year old, Aarde is nothing less than a revelation, and a deeply touching novel. Masterful.” – TROUW (2-page spread) (Dutch language edition of Dirt)

David Vann’s third novel jumps right to your throat… Here a constant darkness prevails. It’s the dark color of despair, of fate. David Vann writes with boxing gloves. One comes out of it knocked off. ” – Éric Neuhoff, LE FIGARO LITTÉRAIRE

He’s made it. With only 3 novels, David Vann has succeded in imposing his voice among the very first ranks of the new generation of american writers… Orchestrated as a tenser and tenser psychodrama, Dirt features characters dealing with the same emotional disorders, the same resentment and, hidden behind appearances, the same madness. A madness that will lead to the worst, this cruel tale in which Sukkwan Island’s author proves that he is, indeed, the devil’s confidant. ” – André Clavel, LIRE

There are some writers whose books you know will leave a mark. David Vann is one of them… An immersion into madness. An oppressing road to hell. And absolutely remarkable. ” – Laurant Fialaix, QUESTIONS DE FEMMES

When you witness so much frustration, you quickly understand that drama isn’t far, and yet its wild violence, well served by a writing as unique as it is breathtaking, surprises you. If David Vann isn’t a great author, who is ? ” – François Perrin, TGV Magazine

Extraordinary. It is sword-literature. ” – Le Masque et la plume, France Inter

Before reaching the outcome of his story, David Vann has created, with a stifling tranquillity, a terrifiying and unforeseable sequence of events. As Galen thinks : « anything could happen at anytime ». In David Vann’s novels as well. ” – LIVRE HEBDO

A striking depiction of a secluded family interactions from David Vann…. The author excels in dissecting neurosis and in spreading, in a very cinematographic way, suspense and fear. ” – MARIANNE PAYOT, L’EXPRESS

Dirt starts off as a Steinbeck novel and ends somewhat like a Pynchon’s… Sex, death wishes, madness, obsession for money, here is a portrait of the American family. ” – GILLES HEURÉ, FRANCE INTER

Very effective, this novel is toxic and intense. ” – Bernard Quiriny, LE MAGAZINE LITTÉRAIRE

“With Dirt [Vann] has quietly refined the insights into family dynamics and grief which he has explored in his earlier novels. In Dirt, the tangible insanity of families and how they relate to each other are tackled with a resonant, psychological heft. The oblique psychological and domestic horror of Dirt is reminiscent of Stephen King at his chilly best (not his airport novel worst) and Vann approaches his subject matter in a clear-eyed and sparse style.” New Zealand Herald

“Uncompromisingly direct.” Guardian

“A powerful story of a family on the verge of imploding, David Vann’s novel might not be an easy read – but it is, undoubtedly, a book you will want to devour in a single sitting.” Stylist

“Magnificent.” Sunday Times

“The second half of the book unfolds like a car crash you can’t bear to look, yet you can’t look away. Like his previous novels The Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island, Vann mines family relationships and the landscape in which they live to weave his compelling fiction. In the same tradition as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Dirt is a relentlessly challenging read that is certainlynot for the faint-of-heart.  Verdict: brilliantly disturbing”  Herald Sun (Australia)

“The nagging suspicion that something twisted is about to happen makes reading novels by David Vann an almost perverse thrill.  He delivers in spades with his latest effort, the suffocating family tragedy Dirt.”  Seattle Times

“Disturbing and haunting…David Vann excels at writing about the darkest side of the human heart.”–Denver Post

“His language is sharply funny, even as his characters enact a tragedy of Greek proportions.”–The New Yorker

“Vann really is a brilliant documentarian of folie de grandeur…Dirt is unputdownable, thundering at breathtaking speed towards the shocking climactic act.”–London Evening Standard

“Outlandish”–The Paris Review

“Explosive”–The Wall Street Journal

“Vann’s book is art, and not to be missed.”–BookPage

“There is something of Beckett here…At turns savage and comic, Vann’s richly complex novel does what the best literature does: It makes demands on its readers.”–Kirkus

“Multi-award winner Vann writes undeniably powerful prose, whether he is blithely satirizing transcendental meditation, or meticulously detailing Galen’s descent into madness.”–Booklist

“The book is wonderfully twisted, but a sinister humor keeps things from getting too bleak. What begins as a literary family drama turns slowly into a heady horror story, part Stephen King and part Immanuel Kant.”–The Daily Beast

“Vann returns to the dark side in this harrowing novel.  Often compared to Cormac McCarthy, he exerts a powerful grip here, as Galen learns how far he’s willing to go to get free.”–San Jose Mercury News

“An unsettling and all-too-convincing tale of madness, lust, and violence…Vann’s precise and stark meditation on the futility of transcendence.”–The California Report

“Startled, page-turning bewilderment…Vann, like Hitchcock before him, makes it his business to show us how a relationship like this works its damage, and he fascinates us with a compelling and utterly believable portrait of individuals in extremis.”–Canberra Times

“A singular artistic vision…fine and unsettling.”–

“Another dispatch from dysfunctional suburbia by one of the US’s hottest writers…A morbid fascination with the family’s eye-poppingly vicious interactions keeps you turning the pages…It’s hard to forget.”–Metro (London)

“David Vann has a talent for being able to pack a lot into very few words – and to make them all effective and forceful. …Compelling. If I start reading Vann I know that I’m going to have to keep reading no matter how painful, how distressing the story…What marks this book out as being something special is the forensic examination of the tipping point at which a disturbed mind, an unfocused mind tumbles into madness.”–

“Smartly disorienting, allowing [Vann] to plumb sickening depths by believable degrees.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“A major new voice in American fiction….The brooding intensity, the convincing, metaphorical use of landscape, the cumulative effect of detail and the apparent ordinariness of the characters all combine to inject real power into this dark and offbeat tale…. Dirt cements Vann’s place as a key American talent.”—Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)

“One of the most exciting young American novelists at work….In Galen, Vann has given us an awkward and complex character, one all the more memorable for his failures and idiosyncrasies.”—New Zealand Listener

“The novel I can’t wait for is Dirt, by American David Vann, who has a new Australian publisher in Text. I know I have raved about Vann’s previous books, Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island, but sometimes a rave is in order. Text tells me Dirt, due in June, is Vann’s bleakest work yet, and that’s something I’ll have to read to believe. In this time of reading-as-therapy, kudos to Text for promoting the novel as “a story where no one evolves, where no one comes of age, where no one becomes a better person”.”–The Australian

“Vann, a Guggenheim fellow, excels at sly truths. Galen’s self-aggrandizement neatly skewers not only New Age philosophies but also many of our common assumptions about family and community.”–Boston Globe

“The ending will leave you wide-eyed.”–Shelf Awareness

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