Follow by Email

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Mile Down by David Vann (review)

A Mile Down by David Vann

Just skim-read A Mile Down by David Vann (Thunder's Mouth Press, June 2005), a story by a former Stanford Writing Fellow and adjunct who, following in his Dad's flawed footsteps, threw over his career to become captain of his own boat.

Vann's father was a dentist turned fisherman turned failure and, after a return to dentistry, a suicide. Vann falls into the same déjà vu-like pattern, buying and losing a yacht off Guatemala, then convincing himself and his friends and partners to stake him to a 90-ft charter yacht built in Turkey. He's going to offer upscale Aegean visits to Ulysses' old haunts, combining his love of lit and boats. Everything goes wrong. The Turkish boat starts to fall apart at the seams by the second charter. Everyone rips him off. He's like one of those dumb Englishmen in Eric Ambler's novels who blunder into danger and somehow blunder out-except Vann does not get out. He almost loses the boat in an epic battle with a storm and a greedy freighter captain who sets out to exploit the laws of salvage (and helps to put Vann and his friends in peril in order to force them off the yacht).

There's a whole other half to the tale, when he gets his boat out of bankruptcy and puts it into charter in the Caribbean. The Bird of Paradise runs into more trouble. Everybody seems to have it in for Vann. Customs officials, shipyard men, his oldest friend. Maybe with good reason, he admits. While the honesty is refreshing, it doesn't diminish the suspicion that indeed what we have here is a failure to communicate. Or, as Vann himself says, "Perhaps I'm just an asshole."

The Bird ends up sinking, too-in an unexpected near-hurricane--helped along by the Coast Guard's lame first attempts to assist, perhaps, but more by the fact that Vann is just not a very careful sailor. He's always trying too much with unskilled crew and a mindset that asks for fatality. So it isn't so much that bad luck dogs Vann. After all, he has an interesting ability to tap wealthy friends for money. The Bay Area thing, I guess (speaking as a former denizen). But it really makes me snort at times-"Gee, if this fool's friends would just stop writing him checks, maybe he'd use his brain in ways that would anticipate the problems that keep arising on his boats."

But, as a lower-case ocean person myself, I know that we're all extremely vulnerable in the water or on it. It's easy to end up under it, too. A Mile Down is very well written, perhaps too well given the authorial revelations.

No comments:

Post a Comment