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Dirt: A Novel Hardcover – April 24, 2012

67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Searing. . . . 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.” (Washington Post Book World)

“There’s a lot of humor here, of a very dark vein. And Vann, a Guggenheim fellow, excels at sly truths” (Boston Globe)

“Brilliant narrative. . . . 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)

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

“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)

“Brave and brilliant. . . . Dirt is showing us something unexpected, and unexpectedly stunning . . . Vann’s details here, as always, are pitch-perfect.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Haunting.” (Financial Times)

“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))

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

“David Vann excels at writing about the darkest side of the human heart. . . . Vann fully exhibits the writer’s chops that served him well in his earlier works, and he again plumbs the darker parts of the human psyche. This novel is simultaneously disturbing and haunting.” (Denver Post)

“Harrowing. . . . Vann, a professor at UC San Francisco, is 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)

“Vann truly is brave. . . . there is no denying we emerge indelibly affected.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“This experience is prolonged to the very last page, graceful paragraph, stunning word. Then it reverberates. Vann’s book is art, and not to be missed.” (BookPage)

About the Author

Published in twenty languages, David Vann's internationally bestselling books have won fifteen prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain, and have appeared on seventy-five Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He's written for the New York Times, Atlantic, Esquire, Outside, Sunset, Men's Journal, McSweeney's, and many other publications, and he has been a Guggenheim, Stegner, and NEA fellow.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780062121035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062121035
  • ASIN: 0062121030
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,335,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Published in 19 languages, David Vann's internationally-bestselling books have won 15 prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain, and appeared on 70 Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Outside, Men's Health, Men's Journal, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, The Financial Times, Elle UK, Esquire UK, Esquire Russia, National Geographic Adventure, Writer's Digest, McSweeney's, and other magazines and newspapers. A former Guggenheim fellow, National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Wallace Stegner fellow, and John L'Heureux fellow, he is currently a Professor at the University of Warwick in England.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dirt: A Novel is David Vann at his best. Readers familiar with Vann who approach DIRT expecting another Legend of a Suicide: Stories (P.S.) or Caribou Island: A Novel will most likely be thrown off guard. Vann is still the master of visceral atmosphere and probing characterizations but this time he toys with his reader in an unexpected way, teases the reader gently at first, with quirkiness and humor, before unleashing a dramatic prototype who longs to become a Siddhartha but is driven instead to becoming more like Aeschylus' Orestes or Shakespeare's Hamlet or Hitchcock's Norman Bates.

DIRT is a novel of depth and complexity delivered with Vann's trademark ruthless imagination and penetrating style. It opens in 1985 on a Sacramento Valley walnut farm in Northern California. With a comic tone that is unusual for Vann, he makes a mild mockery of a dysfunctional family consisting of its only male - 22 year old Galen - and the four women who dominate his life - his suffocating mother, Suzy-Q, his 17 year old vixen cousin, Jennifer, his bitter and sarcastic Aunt Helen, and finally his wealthy but dementia-addled Grandma.

Galen has always hoped for a normal young man's life, to perhaps travel across Europe for a year before enrolling in a university and in the meantime to also lose his virginity to a woman he would fall madly in love with...but Galen's mother has other plans for her only child.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dirt by David Vann is a tragedy in the true Greek sense of the word. The protagonist is propelled by actions to destroy his own life and that of a loved one. There is no stopping the chain of events.

The novel takes place outside of Sacramento, California in 1985. Galen and his mother live on a walnut orchard surrounded by suburbia. His grandmother has been put in a home because she has dementia. He and his mother visit her daily. Galen is 22 years old and has been wanting to go to college or study a year abroad in France but his mother keeps telling him that they do not have the money. He and his mother, Suzie Q, live off the proceeds of a trust from his grandmother. Galen also has an aunt Helen and cousin Jennifer who are not in his grandmother's favor. Galen refers to them as `the mafia'. "The mafia standing by on the deck, watching with their arms folded. Galen felt almost bad for them for a moment, always on the sidelines. But that was just the order of things. Galen and his mother were first, and they were second, and that was just the way it was. It couldn't be changed."

Jennifer is a luscious 17 year old tempting Galen with her body at the same time that she is sadistic to him. He is a virgin and his only exposure to sex is Hustler magazine and Jennifer, his first cousin. His sexual obsession with Jennifer contributes to the tragic consequences of this novel.

Galen is an odd one, interested in the works of Gibran, especially The Prophet. He reads Siddhartha, Jonathon Livingston Seagull, and listens to the music of Kitaro. He tries to be in the here and now, in a meditative trance that he takes from an eclectic mix of new-age venues. He chants, hums, prays, and sings but he is truly a lost soul.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kim Karas VINE VOICE on May 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I see a good amount of praise for Dirt though myself I have little good to say here. I realize that this is the work of a much acclaimed, prize winning author and yet I walked away from Dirt empty. My first time reading Vann and if this is any indicator, it will be my last time. I anticipate getting "not helpful" votes for my review by other readers who disagree with my opinions. I'm bringing it on regardless. Reviews are meant to help those who are thinking about reading the book and I want to give my two cents that it wasn't a good read in my opinion.

First off you need to know that the writing is graphic when it comes to sexual topics and violence. That was a little too much for me and I wasn't expecting it, hence my first strike against the book.

The novel is one of a dysfunctional family centering around main character Galen who is 22 and living at home with Mom in the old family home complete with nut orchard, how fitting! Other family members are his maternal grandmother who despite being in good physical health, is confined to a nursing home due to mental deterioration. The family also includes Galen's aunt who is a rival against his mother and his cousin who is 17 and a very disturbing young woman. She is a creature who exudes sexuality and violence simultaneously. Also she professes that being violent is just being part of the family. The premise and trying to figure out what makes these people tick are what brought me into the book. The characters I found to be flat, strike two. If the plot went somewhere, it went without me. Three strikes and you're out.

I don't mind a depressing story of which we all agree this clearly is. I do like dark humor and sarcasm which editorial reviews suggest you will find here.
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