Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
If you are looking for a cheerful holiday read, look away real fast.
David Vann’s Goat Mountain (2013) is a book populated with brutal characters. They are not going to do one nice thing in the entire book. Not one.
Perhaps your big clue is on page 16 when the eleven year old son shoots a poacher on his family’s land with a high powered deer hunting rifle. He was supposed to be on his first ritualist hunt with his grandfather, father and the father’s best friend Tom. The goal was for him to shoot his first buck, not another hunter.
As the narrative goes along, we learn that the son is not a good person and feels that his family’s ritual of hunting has forged him into a person destined to kill. He suggests that “some part of me just wanted to kill, constantly and without end.”
Nature vs. nuture? A clue might come when the grandfather suggests that what “we should be doing is killing him right now and burning him in the fire.” No, he is not talking about the poacher; he is talking about his grandson.
So what are the reasons why you might want to read this book and a book discussion group might want to discuss it? First, the book has passages that read like poetry. The style is beautiful and elegant with words that create a patina of color. The Goat Mountain setting is another character in the book by necessity and if you cannot imagine what it would be like to be isolated on the family acres high up in the California wilderness, then you are not reading carefully enough. This novel is a tale of coming of age, a multi-generational battle between fathers and sons, a polemic on hunting and a pretty good mystery in the big definition sense.
It is a cringe read though and at times a reader will want to look away. Do not suggest this to the gentle read crowd–this is more for the Cormac McCarthy – Daniel Woodrell crowd. The son says, “Some part of me was not right, and the source of that can never be discovered.” I hope the same is not true of people like me who like to read about people like him.