Title: Goat Mountain
Author: David Vann
No. of Pages: 256
Genre: Literary Fiction
Origins: Harper Books
Release Date: 10 September 2013
Bottom Line: Nauseating but so utterly compelling
“In the fall of 1978, on a 640-acre family ranch on Goat Mountain in Northern California, an eleven-year-old boy joins his grandfather, his father, and his father’s best friend on the family’s annual deer hunt.
Every fall they return to this dry, yellowed landscape dotted with oak, buckbrush, and the occasional stand of pine trees. Goat Mountain is what this family owns and where they belong. It is where their history is kept, where their memories and stories are shared. And for the first time, the boy’s story will become part of their narrative, if he can find a buck. Itching to shoot, he is ready.
When the men arrive at the gate to their land, the father discovers a poacher and sights him through the scope of his gun. He offers his son a look—a simple act that will explode in tragedy, transforming these men and this family, forcing them to question themselves and everything they thought they knew.”
Thoughts: All of David Vann’s novels are dark, exploring the depths of the human experience in all its tragic glory. Goat Mountain is no different from his previous novels in that aspect, but in this newest novel, he takes the darkness one step further and approaches the realm of violence that sits just below the surface of every human. As the story of the family-hunting-trip-gone-awry progresses, there is an intimacy about the boy’s experiences and feelings that makes the story even more challenging and surprisingly personal. It is a novel that forces readers to reflect on the myriad shades of evil and our perpetual tolerance of violence in various forms.
While the novel is told as a flashback, the story of the hunting trip is told in such a way that all of the action is immediate. What is occurring on the mountain is timeless in a way, as if it could happen at any time and to anyone. This feeling of immediacy increases the intimacy of the story, bringing the terror of the three days on the mountain to life. What occurs to the boy and what occurs because of the boy’s actions are brutal, ugly, and in some aspects very warranted, and readers will find themselves conflicted about the consequences of the act as enacted by each of the three men. The discussions about evil and killing, especially the religious connotations of both, are profound but provide no easy answers for anyone.
Mr. Vann is known for his lyrical writing style, and it is back again in Goat Mountain. Make no mistake however that lyrical does not mean pretty. Mr. Vann is a hunter and is very explicit on what that entails. His descriptions are intense and leave nothing to the imagination. While it does lead to some very nauseating scenes that should definitely be avoided by vegetarians or the squeamish, the explicitness of the descriptions fit the intimacy of the story. The violence done by the boy and to the boy are meant to disturb and upset because therein lies the power to reflect and reassess a culture that applauds such behavior under the guise of male companionship or tests of manhood.
Not for the faint of heart, David Vann’s Goat Mountain leaves a reader reeling from its gut-wrenching exploration of violence and its consequences on an 11-year-old boy. Vann’s brutally vivid prose creates a chilling, visceral, and haunting story that burrows its way under a reader’s skin and leaves a permanent impression. For all its disturbing imagery and violence, the questions raised about violence and evil make Goat Mountain well worth the read.