Saturday, May 5, 2012


Dirt, by David Vann.

Galen lay down in the hollow between two furrows, curled on his side. Breathing heavily, wet with sweat, the air cool now on his skin. His forehead in the dirt. The world only an illusion. This orchard, the long rows of trees, only a psychic space to hold the illusion of self and memory. His grandfather giving him rides on the old green tractor, the putting sound of the engine. His grandfather's Panama hat, brown shirt, smell of wine on his breath, Riesling. The feel of the tractor tugging forward, the lurch as the front wheels crossed over a furrow. All of that a training to feel the margins of things, the slipping, none of it real. The only problem was how to slip now beyond the edges of the dream. The dirt really felt like dirt.

This book took me a while to get though. Galen is a hard character to understand - he is constantly telling his family that he is an "old soul" and that they are "young souls" - and about the only thing that gets him excited in life, both literally and figuratively, is his 17-year-old cousin, Jennifer, who is much more experienced sexually than he is. His grandfather, who was abusive, is deceased, and his grandmother, who seems to be in the early stages of dementia, is in a nursing home. His mother is "at once domineering and needy," and has guilted Galen into not going to college to stay home and "play house" with her, for the most part. The two of them and his aunt, cousin, and grandmother go to a family cabin and Galen gets to have sex with Jennifer, who is bored and likes to play around with his mind.

When they get back to their respective houses, Galen's mother, who saw them having sex, threatens to call the police and get Galen sent to jail, since he is 22 and she is 17; it would be rape and possibly incest, she says. Galen will not let this happen and locks his mother in a shed on their property. Over the next few days, their relationship slowly dissolves, and Galen has to decide if he wants her to die in the shed or if he should save her life.

I didn't really like this book at all, but I will admit that I didn't see the shed twist coming. On other reviews on, most of them are positive, and the novel is compared to a Greek tragedy; indeed, the press release that arrived with the book calls it "a modern-day Greek tragedy with echoes of Flannery O'Connor, William Faulker, and Cormac McCarthy." David Vann, too, is the author of many books, and he has an MFA from Cornell and writes for various magazines as well. It could be that others will like Dirt, but I just couldn't get into Galen's mind - it's very "trippy" in there - and except for the surprise of him locking up his mother, and the ensuing consequences, the novel was unable to keep my interest.

1.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.


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