I read David Vann’s A Mile Down early one Saturday morning when I thought I was going back to sleep but didn’t, in one luxurious unstoppable four-hour marathon that meant the cats sulked in the living room because I didn’t top off their food bowls and I was late to some meeting I had sworn I would be on time for and I kept thinking how can I keep reading without coffee but David Vann is like the best French roast, he’s a mainline jolt to the neocortex because he’s fun and exciting and you hate him and you badly, badly want to be him.
“Him,” of course, being the narrator of A Mile Down. Maybe I would actually like David Vann in person, in fact I met him at a reading and he was kind and polite but had a wrinkle in his forehead that meant “I am running late for class, would these people stop chatting,” which is ok because where he teaches being late means he is going to have to discard all ideas of driving and just fly there, lecture notes zipped into his backpack as he cruises at low altitude over Tallahassee, which seems perfectly reasonable because after you read A Mile Down you think if David Vann can’t actually fly he will find a way to raise the money to try to do it anyway, even if he gets too close to the sun and his wings fall off, maybe even twice, and then everyone will say “We forgive you, David!” (well, not exactly everyone, some are quite pissed and he is contrite though I bet they’d rather have their money back) and he will tilt his crazy charismatic smile in your direction and you will give him money and he will build more wings.
Because “A Mile Down” is a true story, as they say, about a guy who charms money out of friends and acquaintances — twice — to go to sea in a dubious boat — twice — which is going to be his Get Rich Quick scheme so he can sail and write for the rest of his life, and you can use “sail” and “write” to substitute for anything you’d rather be doing, maybe something pious like volunteering in food banks, maybe something fabulous like every day you get up and read for four hours before you do anything else. Which would be cool. Even though the moral is your wings keep falling off. Which again is ok because people pay you to put them back on, which is the part I’d like to figure out, except I suspect you can’t learn that charisma thing.
But now David Vann is a professor with a teaching load and is not sitting in the middle of an ocean in his own boat with water like “a bright metal sheet crumpling without sound,” as he writes toward the end of this excellent very unstoppable book.
Though I do wonder, what next.
Which is a thought that makes me grin.
Go, read A Mile Down, even if you think you don’t read books about guys in boats, and I generally do not cotton to swashbuckling guy-lit, my idea of using the sea in literature being more on the order of Jane Herself, with the sea in Persuasion a genteel abstraction, not something that can swallow you up in a heartbeat, particularly if you’re young and rash and crazy and charismatic and people give you shitloads of money.
And if you are a librarian and you buy this book, and you should, right now, please do not immediately jam it somewhere in the Dewey section where it will sit unnoticed, but put it on a table with a big arrow over it, maybe with other books like Into the Wild and The Orchid Thief, lovely books about humanity not only unbound but even a bit unraveled, books that are also, like A Mile Down, ultimately about the full-tilt drowning power of love itself.
Posted on this day, other years:
- Pumpkins, Santa Fe - 2006
- Last Friday's Crowd - 2005
- Educating CIPA - 2003
- New Intellectual Freedom Award - 2003