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Dirt: A Novel Hardcover – April 24, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Four girls on a trip to Paris suddenly find themselves in a high-stakes game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control. Learn More
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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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,887,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Fairbanks Reader - 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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Format: Hardcover
I was given this book by a friend who must have liked it. My friend tends to be a bit depressed, and I know she likes reading about awful things - she says it makes her feel better, to read about people worse off than she is. If you are like this too, perhaps you will enjoy the experience, because I cannot imagine very many people out there having family dynamics worse than this one.

Basically, this is a psychological horror story about a young man in a family where people hate each other and come unraveled in spectacular ways. The story begins with a description of smaller evils - the protagonist needles his mother, the aunt makes vicious remarks to the grandmother, the 17 year old girl-cousin wakes the protagonist by straddling his face - and escalates through incest, beatings, and the final denouement: the young man locks his mother in a hot shed for three days and trashes the house before dragging her out by the wrists and burying her alive. It's not gory, as the focus is psychological rather than physical, but that somehow only makes it worse. The last 100 pages of the book describe the protagonist's murderous mental breakdown in great detail. Unlike other novels in which terrible things happen there is no redemption at the end, and seemingly no point to be made except the experience itself.

Compliments of the book include words like "searing" and "vivid". This is quite true. The plot points in this story are so outstandingly unpleasant that they ought to be ridiculous, and it is proof of the skill of the author that you are instead believingly drawn into the story to experience the horrible sequence for yourself.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dysfunctional, odd, quirky, absurd, controlling...downright crazy, those are a few words to describe the family in this book of greed, lust and disturbing behavior.

Galen is a 22 year old bulimic, vegetarian (when it suites him), who lusts after his 17 year old cousin Jennifer. Jennifer's mother Helen is just filled with anger that her sister who she refers to as "Susie-Q" is in charge of the family trust. Helen and "Susie-Q" are sisters, but do not seem to be able to be in the same room together. These two women and their children, Galen and Jennifer head to the family cabin with their mother for a long weekend. Helen and "Susie-Q" bring along their mother, who happens to be suffering from Alzheimer's-or something similar.

Can you imagine this group together in one cabin?

These family members all have problems, too many to name. Then put them all together and it's like truly a nut house. Each member of the family is so wrapped up with themselves and their problems it's amazing that they all agreed to be together in the first place...however, there is a motive to this gathering. And of course it's going to spiral out of control. What takes place during their stay puts everyone over the edge. There is so much animosity and anger...it finally boils over.
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Format: Hardcover
What happened to the David Vann of Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island? That author is a master of emotional manipulation -- in a good way, where you don't actually feel manipulated, you just feel sincere emotions batter you as you read. That author could make me sympathize equally with two characters in dire opposition to each other. That author could write characters full of suffering but never insufferable.

That author is not present in Dirt, a book that had me thinking of Thomas Hobbes. It is nasty and brutish but not in a good way. And it's not nearly short enough. The reader does all of the suffering.

I don't really know what Vann was trying to do with the characters here, as he seems to have nothing but contempt for them all. And well he should because these are contemptible, horrible people. But if Vann doesn't care about them, why should I? And why should I slog through a couple hundred pages of these people just being disgusting human beings? The main character -- Galen, from whose POV the book is told -- is the worst of the lot, so naturally Vann would trap us in his head. A lazy, ungrateful, arrogant, monstrous little schmuck, Galen is obsessed with New Agey, Siddhartha nonsense and has himself convinced he alone is Enlightened and Real (when he's not, you know, fantasizing about having sex with his underage cousin).

Most of the page count is spent with his mindless navel-gazing, and I just didn't get it. Vann is an atheist and obviously thinks the New Age stuff is crap, so why does he devote most of the book to it? It must be to inflate what little plot or action there is; basically one hundred pages are spent on Galen moving dirt around with a shovel. As a short story, this might have worked, but there isn't enough here for a novel.
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