Sunday, May 1, 2016

Review: "Goat Mountain" by David Vann

It is convenient that I’m reading Suttree by Cormac McCarthy right after reading this book, since the two styles and the two writers seem to complement each other greatly, although this book, David Vann’s Goat Mountain, is a little easier to read. To say this book took me by surprise is an understatement. I went in, having read the description on the back, expecting a kind of murder saga, filled with revenge and bloodshed. And while that is not what got at all, I still found this book to surprisingly ethereal, moving and a little bit unnerving as well. Vann takes a simple act, whose motives and purposes are left ambiguous, and shows not only the effect it has on the impressionable eleven year old narrator, but shows the lengths his family goes to do what they think is right. The narrator, left unnamed, is on a hunting trip with his father, grandfather, and the father’s friend Tom in 1978 in the Northern California Mountains, an area they have owned for decades. Things are going smoothly until a poacher is sighted on their land, and the boy, looking through the sight of his father’s rifle, shoots the man, killing him. The rest of the 239-page book sees the different reactions the five men have: the boy sees his whole life flash before his yes and quotes the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Jesus, the father is the most apologetic, mainly because he sees that his son’s life is now over, the grandfather takes a more ancient approach to his son’s actions, leading up to the book’s harrowing climax, and Tom, sees himself caught in the families’ mess and regrets the time he has spent with them. If this book has any flaws, its poor characterization, since no one, not even the boy himself, is very fleshed out. This is a deeply allegorical story where innocence is lost and primordial values of life and fate descend upon an unsuspecting and undeserving clan. And with those complex ideas, this book succeeds.

Rating: 4/5          

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