Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 18, 2012

Dirt (2012), by David Vann

DirtI really don’t know what to make of this novel.  I really admired Legend of a Suicide (see my review) so I picked this one up straight away when I saw it at the library, and I took it with me when I had some time to spend in waiting rooms this week.

But I didn’t like it much.  It’s a story of a young man filled with hate and  I was not really in the mood for that, not in the light of events this week in America with yet another mass shooting by a hate-filled young man.

Galen, at the age of 22, is still living as a dependant on his mother, Susie-Q on an old orchard.  They are in constant warfare over everything including food, which they both use to exert power over  each other.  He’s a bulimic vegetarian and refuses to eat so that she will worry, and she cooks meat-based meals anyway.  He wants to go to college, but his mother – who’s a passive-aggressive emotional cripple – says that the trust can’t fund the fees because the money is needed for the care of his grandmother.  She’s just been packed off to a home because she’s losing her memory and is putting herself at risk.

Galen has (to put it mildly) a warped view of the world.  He thinks he’s an ‘Old Soul’ aiming for transcendence.  He’s into meditation, firewalking, psychic surgery and all kinds of other whatnot, and the real world that surrounds him makes him very angry indeed.


Galen’s Aunt Helen and his 17-year-old cousin, Jennifer, are after the trust money too.  They turn up at the orchard and so the spiteful dialogue is amplified as the sisters spar with each other too.  Jennifer plays power games as well, taunting Galen over his virginity and in some sequences that are extremely graphic, escalates their ‘games’ into an unhealthy relationship that is illegal given their age difference.

This relationship is the catalyst, then, for an appalling sequence of events.  The novel shifts from being a squalid tale of a dysfunctional family with inheritance issues to a savage depiction of hate spiralling out of control, punctuated by a lot of New Age waffle about transcendence.  I am not sure whether the descent is into evil or madness, but it is really quite horrible.

If you’re interested in reading an exploration of adolescence in extremis you may find the various kinds of dirt interesting.  I prefer The Catcher in the Rye.

Author: David Vann
Title: Dirt
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 9781921922572
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Dirt


  1. I read his first two books and found them rather depressing. It’s no great surprise to find that you weren’t all that keen on on it. Squalid, waffle, horrible – the all great words Lisa!


    • *chuckle*

      I haven’t read Caribou, did you review it?


  2. I read his debut and follow up just review his debut the second very similar and this seems in same vein a bit too depressing ,all the best stu


    • I think it’s more depressing than Legend…


  3. Man, I am so depressed after finding out what happens, this book was absolutely horrifying. I want to just cry and become depressed now.


    • I agree. As you can tell, I really disliked this book.


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