Legend of a Suicide by David Vann:Ichthyology

I received Legend of a Suicide from TLC Book Tours with little knowledge of what it was about, and though I haven’t finished reading it yet, I wanted to share with you what the reading experience has been like for the first story, “Ichthyology”.  I don’t really do a whole lot of interpreting on this blog; this is a place mainly for talking about the way I react to a book, about what worked and what didn’t, not necessarily what the symbols are.  That’s what I do at school, and so maybe I’m still just in school mode, or maybe it’s because short stories just naturally lend themselves to interpretation because there is less text and more imagination, but when I read “Ichthyology”, I couldn’t help looking things up and trying to interpret the story.

In the story, a young boy’s mother and father split up and the mother and son move to California.  When things get bad, the story is always related to fish.  Hence the title, Ichthyology, or the study of fish.  First, the boy goes on trips with his father fishing and it is his job to make sure the fish don’t jump out of the boat, smashing their heads in with hammers.  When his father and mother are fighting one night, he sneaks into someone else’s home and becomes mesmerized by their fish tank.  He feeds the fish pickles.  In California, he gets his own fish tank and the entire world, as he says, lives within that fish tank.

And this is where the story both succeeds and fails.  It succeeds because this is a beautiful setup.  The story has naturally progressed to this point where fish have obviously been an important part of the narrator’s life and have now become even more so.  There are tragic things happening in the narrator’s life. They need to be explained, they can be explained with the tank.  In this regard, it works completely.  But here also is the problem, what lessons about life are actually learned in the fish tank do not necessarily seem to equal what is going on in the real world.  There is nothing in the fish tank that says metaphor.  It is just a fish tank and life is just life.  I wanted something more.  I wanted more about the narrator’s life, about what was happening, about why this fish tank was so important and became such an influential way for him to see the world.  He tells us that “everything in human life was to be found in that tank”, but never shows us that.

So what does that bode for the rest of the collection?  I hope that the stories that follow have an equally compelling premise and then follow through on them.  Keep an eye out for reviews of the rest of the short stories in Legend of a Suicide.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book.


7 thoughts on “Legend of a Suicide by David Vann:Ichthyology

  1. I think it is misleading to describe this as a set of short stories and am not sure why it is being marketted like that in the US. I am not a fan of short stories, but I LOVED this book! They are interconnected stories and it works if read as a novel. I hope you read the rest of the book and that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  2. I agree with farmlanebooks – this book really needs to be taken as a whole, and is extremely powerful as such. Its an examination of suicide from every possible angle and circumstance. The novella is just about as perfect as they come, despite the harrowing circumstances surrounding it. I hope to see a full review of the entire book once you read it, and to hear your reactions. I know my reaction to the book as a whole was one of the most intense reading experiences I’ve ever had.

  3. Looking forward to starting this next week. Your thoughts here encourage me to just get to it too. Appreciate Jackie’s comment above about interconnected short pieces. Really alters one’s approach to a text, and feel that Olive Kittredge was also misinterpreted in this way. But we will both see soon, right?

  4. I’m reading this collection for the TLC Tours as well, and have only finished Ichthyology… Liked it but didn’t love it, as it feels like it’s more of a set up for the rest of a the collection. At least I hope so!

  5. This sounds like an interesting story, I think I’ll have to check out this book. Thanks for your thoughts! I really like how you saw the success and failure of it.

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