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Bull Head

Bull Head

By John Vigna
Paperback : 9781551524900, 208 pages, 2012
Read Excerpt (PDF)


Danuta Gleed Literary Award runnerup

A line-dancing aficionado visits his brother in jail in hopes of mending their relationship, and instead discovers his own unwitting role in his brother's failed life. After the death of his wife and children, a logger tries to survive the Thanksgiving weekend on his own. A delinquent teen's life is changed forever by a work-camp placement with a violent older boy. A truck driver seeks sanctuary from his abusive wife in a fantasy world of strip clubs and personal ads.

Bristling with restlessness and brutality, the eight linked stories in Bull Head catapult readers into the gritty lives of social outcasts lost in purgatories of their own making. John Vigna tempers raw and at times cruel rural masculinity with graceful prose and breathtaking tenderness to illuminate the plight of men living in small towns and backwoods who belong neither to history nor the future. A startling homage to the great Southern Gothic tradition, Bull Head is a dazzling debut that heralds a powerful and exciting new literary voice.

From Bull Head:

The night bled in around him. He drove to the gravel turnoff where the main artery led toward the dull lights of town. In his rearview, brake lights blazed a trail behind him. He took his foot off the brake, turned and accelerated, kept his eyes on the road as it unfurled a few yards ahead in the white wash of the headlights. The wilderness rushed towards him in the glow, trees flashed past like an ancient chorus in a cold cathedral, the car swerved on gravel, peppering the undercarriage, the dust obliterated the road behind. He slammed the gas pedal to the floor; the cruel rush of night air blasted his face. The fuel light flashed red. He turned off the headlights, and sped faster, the wind screaming in his ears as he lifted his hands off the steering wheel and hurtled through the darkness.


  • Short-listed, Danuta Gleed Literary Award 2013


A heartbreaking portrait of what it means to be a man in a world where violence trumps reason, and bad decisions begin with good intentions. Withwit, tenderness and intelligence, Bull Head exposes the raw underbelly of male experience.
-Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

- Gary Shteyngart

John Vigna's prose grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go. He writes about dogs, despair, and the endless maneuverings between men and women. The characters in Bull Head never give up-they keep trying to fulfill themselves by taking action. Like all of us, their decisions were the best option at the time, but in retrospect often caused more difficulty and damage. Bull Head is a brilliant book by a writer who never flinches.
-Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight

- Chris Offutt

The men in Vigna's tales resort to physical brutality as an expression of a kind of existential yearning; on a thematic level, these are stories of paralysis - of characters' inability to rise above their circumstances - that owe as much to the work of Beckett and Joyce as to Hemingway and O'Connor.
-National Post

- National Post

John Vigna is a rare writer, capable of standing stark brutality alongside complex humanity, adept at showing us the cruelty of the world without making us despair for ourselves within it. The stories in Bull Head are rich, compelling, and sometimes frightening, written in spare honest prose without pretence or posturing. An astonishing debut.
-Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

- Steven Galloway

[Vigna] draws compelling portraits of characters whose fates are bound, irrevocably or not, to the choices they make.
-Quill and Quire (STARRED REVIEW)

- Quill and Quire

Bull Head is a significant debut from a gifted writer. The collection takes the reader to a place seldom seen in literature, to meet people most of us avoid. The stories are a rare mix of violence and soul, misplaced hope and longing.

- subTerrain

Bull Head is a remarkable collection of rough-edged stories about the hard lives of men and women living and working in hard places, and John Vigna's eye for detail, gift for description and unflagging empathy are the keys that unlock these characters' closely guarded hearts and give us access to their weary, yearning souls.
-Richard Lange, author of Dead Boys

- Richard Lange

Bull Head is full of yearning hearts, people living on the edge of trouble and tomorrow. A man mourning his dead wife and daughters takes in a vagabond girl. Two elderly brothers shun the modern world that slouches toward their doorstep. These are keepers of the faith in a hard-scrabble landscape, forever stumbling into urgent embraces. In every story there are gritty, heartfelt truths to be found amid sagebrush and starlight and feathery dustings of snow.
-Charlotte Gill, author of Ladykiller and Eating Dirt

- Charlotte Gill

In his masterful new short story collection Bull Head, John Vigna does for Western Canada what William Faulkner does for the American South and Alice Munro does for small town Ontario . .. Bull Head is certainly a must read for fans of Canadian regionalism, but the collection's success goes beyond the vividness of the setting. Vigna has crafted sharp and satisfying stories about a cruel and starkly beautiful landscape, where the brutality of life is tempered only by the fragile connections that form between wayward souls.
-Prism international

- Prism international

Muscular, lyrical prose . .. This impressive debut collection will appeal to readers of literary fiction like James Dickey's Deliverance, Larry Brown's Joe, and Annie Proulx's Wyoming stories.

- Booklist

Bull Head offers both a lamentation and a condemnation for a type of masculinity fuelled by blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth toughness and emotional stoicism . .. Bull Head is a tense, vitriolic collection, and Vigna is a talent to watch.
-Broken Pencil

- Broken Pencil

A bold, bare-knuckled collection of short stories . .. Bull Head is pure power fiction chock full of vivid and visceral characcters: beautifully desperate souls with dirt under their fingernails and poison in their veins.

- Front&Centre

Iowa Writers' Workshop alumnus John Vigna's muscular debut transplants Southern gothic to the Pacific Northwest in eight dark tales of men and women haunted by lost partners and strained relations . .. While there is bravado on display, Vigna also prods the underbelly of these emotions, revealing the insecurities of man.
-Publishers Weekly

- Publishers Weekly

A country-noir vision of rural existence . .. Vigna showcases an aptly spare style and an impressive willingness to explore the fraught relationships of guys deeply flummoxed, or else defeated, by the wintery meanness of getting by in the valley.
-The Globe and Mail

- The Globe and Mail

The collection announces the arrival of an important new voice in Canadian fiction: tough, supple, tender and resonant . .. The spare, disciplined beauty of Vigna's prose and his evident but unsentimental compassion for them floods this dark material with a kind of tender light.
-Vancouver Sun

- Vancouver Sun