The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for DIY


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: DIY

Cure: Caribou Island by David Vann

If you find yourself drawn irresistibly towards your tool shed this weekend, eager to embark upon that conservatory, hang a much-needed shelf or simply re-wire a plug, pause for a moment before you grab the power tools. It's not that we in any way doubt your handiness. We simply counsel caution. The vast majority of home injuries are caused by hapless DIYers, after all; and many a relationship has come close to melting point along with the fuse that's being replaced.

In David Vann's magnificently grim novel, Irene observes her husband Gary make one last, epic attempt to either save or destroy their marriage by building a log cabin on the other side of Skilak Lake. The wilderness of Alaska has been their home for many years, but Gary has always planned a haven for their retirement which is more remote still. And he's determined to build it with "no foundation, no plans, no permits, or advice" – and no previous experience. If this rings any alarm bells about your own approach to such projects, read on.

Frustrated by all the years he's wasted in diverted dreams, Gary clearly needs to pit himself against the elements unaided by friend or manual, in order to rediscover his inner alpha male. Before long, we're digging our nails into our palms along with Irene as we watch him hang a door the wrong way round, leave vital implements on the wrong side of the frozen lake, and realise too late that the cabin he is building is far too small. As the rain drives "like pin-pricks" into their eyeballs, Irene half-heartedly attempts to help, but is soon overcome by the growing realisation that Gary's cherished cabin never had room for her.

Pause just long enough to read this novel. We guarantee that its breathtaking conclusion will have you walking swiftly back to the house, making a cup of tea for yourself and your loved one, then leafing through the Yellow Pages for a handyman instead.