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A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea Paperback – June 15, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"You gaze entranced as his destiny unfolds...Vann pulls off the most gripping passage of sea-catastrophe writing I have read outside Conrad, a chest-tightening, concretely detailed, cold, sickening and cumulatively desperate depiction of life turning murderous." Spectator "At once memoir, confession, travel book and thriller, David Vann's A Mile Down is so vivid and intense you will dread to see it end... The book is a testimony of passion and courage in deadly storms and scarier calms, of a man wrestling with his ghosts and gifts in the very shadow of paradise." -- Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek and Brave Enemies "Vann brings his undoubted storytelling skill to his own experiences...unflinching honesty...a terrific piece of writing from a brave and talented author." Big Issue "An antidote to the usual run of escape-to-the-sun memoirs." Financial Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

A harrowing—and heartbreaking—true story of one ordinary man’s misadventures at sea

"A Mile Down would be a cautionary tale for anyone who dreams of the freedom of the high seas—if only it wasn’t so damn exciting. . . ." —STEWART O'NAN, coauthor with Stephen King of Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season and author of The Night Country

"At once memoir, confession, travel book, and thriller, David Vann’s A Mile Down is so vivid and intense you will dread to see it end. . . . The book is a testimony of passion and courage in deadly storms and scarier calms, of a man wrestling with his ghosts and gifts in the very shadow of paradise." —ROBERT MORGAN, author of Gap Creek

"A Mile Down is pure adrenaline. Vann by all rights should have died at sea, and yet he’s lived to tell about it. But the thrill comes also from other kinds of risk—risk of repeating his father’s suicide, risk of financial disaster, risk of prosecution, risk of losing everything including who he believes himself to be. This story won’t let you go." —MELANIE THERNSTROM, author of The Dead Girl and Halfway Heaven

"A Mile Down is far more than a tale of ruin at sea. It’s also a story of desire and shame, of the struggle to escape our histories and know our dreams. Vann writes that ‘A life can be like a work of art, constantly melted away and reshaped,’ and he shows us this reshaping, this rebirth of hope from despair and ruin, so powerfully I couldn’t put the book down. You have to read this book, even if you care nothing about sailing or the sea. Just read it." —LALITA TADEMY, author of Cane River

"A Mile Down is a riveting and truthful account of a good man’s attempt to stay afloat on treacherous waters. This book reminded me of Robert Stone’s 'Outerbridge Reach,' or John Casey’s 'Spartina,' but in many ways Vann’s odyssey is more unforgettable. The fact that Vann lived to tell it is an achievement in itself." —TOM BARBASH, author of On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, & 9/11: A Story of Loss & Renewal

"A Mile Down is suberbly crafted. As in the great epics, the protagonist faces an unrelenting crush of disasters, bad luck, and ill will, yet picks himself up over and over to carry on. . . . David Vann has created a tale of hubris and endurance that is both exciting and beautifully written." —KEITH SCRIBNER, author of The Goodlife and Miracle Girl

"Riveting, heartbreaking, and redemptive . . . A Mile Down is a memoir as engaging as the most compelling of novels . . . This is an immensely moving and exciting book—it’s as if one of the heroes of A Perfect Storm had lived to write his memoirs." —JULIE HILDEN, author of 3 and The Bad Daughter

"A Mile Down is mandatory reading for anyone who’s ever flirted with thoughts of a life spent at sea." —A. MANETTE ANSAY, author of Vinegar Hill

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (June 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560257105
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560257103
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #614,730 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. www.davidvann.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Why do men go down to the sea in ships? The power of the ocean has long compelled men to go, hearing in the windy sea a siren offering the secrets of fame, sustenance, fortune, romance. Author David Vann went down to the sea to forge a career, to free himself forever from "the endless treadmill of middle-class labor." To accomplish his dream, Vann commissioned a sleek sailing ship in Turkey and sold educational charters to ancient ports in the Mediterranean Sea. He then embarked on a voyage so riddled with misfortune and danger it could only exist in another man's nightmares -- his ship is hopelessly flawed. But when his boat sinks, "A Mile Down" in the Caribbean, David Vann finds the key to a mystery that has haunted him for many years. "A Mile Down" is more than an adventure story; it is a memoir of discovery and reconciliation written to inspire even confirmed landlubbers. If you read only one book this summer, make that one book "A Mile Down."
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Format: Paperback
This is a gripping tale of a dream turned to nightmare with blow by blow accounts of storms, disasters and rescue at sea. As a simple adventure tale it leaves little wanting which explains its popularity.

David's father was a dentist. Tired of looking at yellowing enamel, he built himself a fishing boat, things went wrong with the venture and he ended up taking his life. This happened when David was 13 and left its mark.

David goes to Turkey, falls in love with the idea of owning a huge fancy yacht and deludes himself into thinking he can make this work. But rationalization seems to be a major facet of David's character.

"I've always worked hard, but the idea of the working life has frightened me since childhood. I had nightmares of adults working hard and endlessly at tasks they did not enjoy so they could continue working hard and endlessly at tasks they did not enjoy. There was not purpose or end point. Work so you can keep working. It seemed a proposition that could easily end in suicide. I wanted to escape this. I wanted to free myself from the working world and have time to write. And I wanted adventure. Grendel could never free me, but this boat could."

You might think from this passage that he had some mind-numbing job as a clerk in a big store. But David was a professor of creative writing at Stamford University, who also owned a 48-foot boat on which he gave creative writing courses. In his internal mental dialogue, the rational side of his brain must be a pushover, especially if he can convince himself that taking on locally-built 90-foot steel yacht is somehow going to give him time to write (well it eventually did, but not till after it sank).
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Format: Paperback
Near the end of A Mile Down, an angry charter agent shouts, "I am ashamed of the name David Vann." By then, the reader has arrived at an understanding of Vann that causes the hateful shout to fall on deaf ears. David Vann's memoir puts the reader at his side for two years as he pursues his dream of owning and operating a 90-foot sailboat. From Vann's words and actions, the reader becomes acquainted with a dreamer and a doer. No one is more critical of Vann than Vann himself. Yet, time after time, friends and associates come to his aid, freely giving of time, talent, and money. It is the cumulative sound of these silent voices that drowns out the shout of the charter agent. David Vann is somebody . . . somebody whose dream can be embraced. His craft (the sailboat) goes a mile down in a freak storm, while his craft (as a writer) allows him to go a mile down to discover enough truth about himself to sail again.
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Format: Paperback
David Vann had me from the first page with his style of writing. As time wore on and his naivete with boat builders in Turkey set him up for future disaster I wanted to grab him by the collar and shout, "Get a grip here! This is your life you are fooling around with." But he plows on pushing to make deadlines he cannot make and rushing off to sea with a shoddy boat that nearly kills him. The disasters in this book are created by David and I got exasperated with his lack of planning. I have lived in Asia and there is a mentality there expressed in the Hindi word: chalega, i.e. it'll work. When you just know it won't work. His carelessness creates a good story but it does not make me want to identify with him. And what's up with no pictures of the boat. Even a line drawing would have made the book a lot better.
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Format: Paperback
I don't know, guys. I read the hype for this book, bought it, and dove in with great expectations. Overall, it is well written but the author's agenda - to blame everyone and anyone but himself for mistake after horrific mistake - overshadowed any merit to the story. It felt a bit like a deposition written in hopes that his former creditors might read it and exonerate him. I found it hard to feel badly for someone who used and abused other peoples' trust and money so that he wouldn't have to get a real job. Poor Mr. Vann!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read the previous reviews before buying this book, so I knew what I was getting into. Mr. C. Doyle and Mark Pittman sum it up pretty well.

David Vann may be a good writer, but he's a poor manager. He runs into problem after problem, none of which are his fault (so he claims). The workmanship is shoddy, and the boat is well over budget. Of course he wasn't around during construction, so the problems aren't apparent during the work and he doesn't have time to fix them. He stresses how he told them over and over to do certain things, like install an anti-siphon device on the engines. Then, when he discovers it's not done, he's too rushed to have it fixed.

The same for his business. He knows his secretary doesn't really care about the job and plans on leaving. What does he do? Sends her e-mails telling her how to do everything, but she still screws it up. At what point do you take control of the situation.

The first phase is a disaster, and he ends up in bankruptcy. Through an odd turn of events, he gets the boat back, and goes through another rebuild process. Once again, things are done wrong, and there's no time to fix it. (Ever learn from your previous mistakes David?) As for how it ends, well, the books title will give you strong hint.

Throughout the book, he places blame on everyone else, from the cut rate shipyard, which is cheap precisely because they do shoddy work and rip people off, to the Coast Guard, which supposedly can't figure out how to tow a boat in the right direction. Even his lawyer can't do things right, and David had to correct the way some of the legal filings were written. It must be really nice to be the smartest man around. Now if you could only figure out how to manage.
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