Review - Goat Mountain by: David Vann

by - Monday, January 26, 2015

Title: Goat Mountain
Author: David Vann
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Review copy received from Turkish publisher


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, buck brush, 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, memories and stories that will be shared again by these men. And for the first time, the boy’s story will be added 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.

In prose devastating and beautiful in its precision, David Vann creates a haunting and provocative novel that explores our most primal urges and beliefs, the bonds of blood and religion that define and secure us, and the consequences of our actions-what we owe for what we’ve done.

My thoughts:

When I read Dirt last year, one thought popped up in my head, and I found myself thinking the same thing while I was reading Goat Mountain: "If David Vann hadn't chosen writing, he might have been a serial killer or something." Of course, I don't know the guy. What I do know is he has a step grandmother who first shot her husband and then herself and a father who committed suicide. As far as I can tell from the two books of his that I've read, he's been through more trauma than is regular. I feel the blood boiling in my veins while I read Vann's work. Even though I'm safely tucked in bed with the book in my hand, my whole body hurts. As if that's not enough, my heart and brain hurt, too. On the one hand, I'm in awe of the guy... I go back and forth through that threshold that stands between pleasure and pain is how I can summarize reading David Vann.

Goat Mountain is the story of a boy, who's also the narrator, his father, grandfather and his father's friend Tom, who's the only character a name is given for. It starts off with them going deer hunting. The boy knows he has to hunt a deer to show he deserves to hold a gun, to prove he's become a man. Instead, he ends up shooting a poacher. Things start to go downhill very fast as the crowd of men try to decide what to do with the body. I must say that the boy, the narrator, is quite the psycho, who feels the same thing he feels while looking at a dead deer when he sees the lifeless body of a man.

This one event is Vann's starting point of making us question the bigger things in life. He does this in a way that sends strong chills through your entire body. His main question is, WHY DO WE HUNT? Is killing something people do because they have to or is it an instinct they can't rid themselves of? Is liking the kill a psychopathic emotion or is it instinctive and normal? Why is shooting animals okay while shooting another person isn't? Why do we live? Why do we die? Why does killing exist at all? What is it all about?! This book is definitely not for those with a faint heart. 

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