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Goat Mountain [Paperback]

David Vann
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Oct 2014

A shocking, suspenseful and daring new novel from one of the greatest American writers at work today, whose previous books include Caribou Island, Dirt and Legend of a Suicide.

In David Vann's searing novel Goat Mountain, an eleven-year-old boy is eager to make his first kill at his family's annual deer hunt. But all is not as it should be. His father discovers a poacher on the land, a 640-acre ranch in Northern California, and shows him to the boy through the scope of his rifle. With this simple gesture, tragedy erupts, shattering lives irrevocably.

Set over the course of one hot and hellish weekend, Goat Mountain is the story of a family struggling to contend with a terrible crime and its repercussions. 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.

Dark, disturbing and unbearably tense, this is the startling new novel from David Vann, 'one of the best writers of his generation' (Le Figaro).

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (30 Oct 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0099558750
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099558750
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,343,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Part of the experience of reading Vann (over time across his oeuvre, and within individual books) is a kind of uneasy curiosity about just how dark he's going to get and where he's going to go to find that darkness. This new excursion is as harrowing as anything he has written, as thrillingly desolate, in its way, as the traumatic hallucinations in Legend of a Suicide.One of the most intense and detailed examinations of an act of violence I have ever read in a work of fiction. Its unflinching realism eventually becomes a kind of nightmare surrealism. It is at once deeply disturbing and powerfully propulsive, a hallucinatory insight into what it means, and how it feels, to kill. The book is a vision of hell focused not on the supernatural, but on nature itself. Vann is a writer who hunts big game. He tracks the same wild territory as Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy - the violence and perversity at the root of what we call human nature, the animal savagery that is our first inheritance.For all its unyielding darkness, Goat Mountain is, perhaps perversely, an exhilarating experience. It is, first of all, cathartic in the way of all good tragedies. But it is also exhilarating for the least perverse of reasons: the experience of reading a novelist of David Vann's rare artistry and vision." (Observer)

"The Cain imagery is powerful and the narrator's psyche fascinating...Vann's prose never lags. The novel is not just gripping: it tightens around its reader like a boa constrictor...Goat Mountain is a brilliant and wise interrogation of a world in which "We were always killing something, and it seemed we were put here to kill"." (The Times)

"Vann is a daring writer, as bold in his plot development as he is unflinching in his prose...Goat Mountain is a compelling and morally challenging novel by one of America's most powerful writers." (Times Literary Supplement)

"Vann evokes the scrub, ridges and conifers of northern California with the meticulous eye of a great landscape artist...This story has genuine potency." (Sunday Telegraph)

"This is Vann's fourth novel, and in that short time he's mapped out a unique fictional territory, a rugged, literary landscape with debts to Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway but with an acuteness of eye that's all the author's own...Vann's description of place and action is unsurpassed, a wonderful clarity to his prose, and the voice of his narrator is truly frightening as he tries to come to terms with what's happened. The tension builds to an extraordinary and explosive climax among the heavily forested mountains, where everything that makes us who we are is called into question. Powerful and deep stuff." (Big Issue)

Book Description

A shocking, suspenseful and daring new novel from one of the greatest American writers at work today, whose previous books include Caribou Island, Dirt and Legend of a Suicide.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a powerful read 9 Oct 2013
By Cloggie Downunder TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Goat Mountain is the third novel by American author, David Vann. In the early fall of 1978, an eleven-year-old boy is on an annual deer hunting trip on a Californian mountainside with his father, his father's best friend and his grandfather. This year, he expects to bag his first buck, but instead, in a life-changing moment, he shoots dead a poacher. The shocking series of events that follows this moment are told with matter-of-fact candour, revealing a flawed set of values, a moral void. Vann draws on his own family's history of violence and his Cherokee ancestry to weave this compelling tale. The stirring, highly evocative, sometimes even lyrical prose is a counterpoint to the darkness and savagery of the subject matter. Gorgeous fragments like "Feel of the air, thinner in the cool sections, fattening up in the light" and "Cicadas turning the air into clicks and a pulse" and "The light not a light of this world but more a temperature, a coldness through which we could see" give the reader a feast of images, sounds and feelings. The boy's inner monologue, filled with biblical references and uncensored thoughts, is often blackly comic. Vann's thought-provoking and complex story will have the reader reflecting on a number of subjects: the sanctity of human life; the responsibility for a child's actions; hunting and killing; conscience, goodness and moral fibre. This is a powerful read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, powerful and evocative 5 April 2014
Once again David Vann produces another fantastic novel about people and the continent of America. He combines some of the best description I've read in recent times with a chilling story about human nature.

The setting of Goat Mountain is one described so vividly one could almost be there. His description of the book's actions, which stem from the brutal instincts of one 11 year-old boy, are also excellent, though graphic in places.

The narrator's use of Biblical comparisons throughout is also done very well - not in a 'Bible-bashing' or overly religious way, but in one which relates it to human nature and real life. The narrator's grappling with the idea of Satan is done particularly well.

This is a wonderful book which is not for the faint hearted but is a thoroughly satisfying read. I hope Mr Vann has more up his sleeve in years to come.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Cheryl M-M TOP 500 REVIEWER
It is dark and compelling.
The structure of the plot is bare, crude and basic. Stylistically it reads as if the reader is privy to the stream of consciousness via the boy. The events unfold, as if one is watching them happen at that moment in time. It is brutal without the gratuitous use of graphic violence. The author manages to create a very vivid imagery and uses biblical comparisons to expand and explain the characters and their actions.
Just one click, one moment and reality of the boy and his true nature become apparent to all.
He feels nothing for the man he has killed and yet flows over with compassion for the buck he later has to kill. The first he does instinctively the second he is forced to do. Feelings of thrill and excitement at the death of a man and feelings of pity for the animal. Vann uses the imagery of the landscape and geography throughout. Land becomes man and man is one with earth.
The boy feels nothing for humans, obviously identifying with his own image and feels the pain of the animal. In his mind the animal fares better because it expects nothing from death. Simplicity in death.
What does become apparent is the genetic predilection to violence and the sociopathic tendencies. Grandfather thinks nothing of suggesting the murder of one of his blood. He domineers over his progeny. Most people would automatically go for help or get the police but these men think of killing to rid themselves of witnesses.
What has happened in the interim? Has he followed his thrill of killing or did that one occasion help his inner pathology retreat into the background never to be uncovered again. How do the remaining men explain the incidents?
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0 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Single Shot Self-Murder 13 Oct 2013
The Bible is a book...

Written by (a) flawed man/men...

It reads from left to right...

Who exactly scribed it...

Everyone and no one...

A collaboration or solitary acolyte...

And what we are left with...

A collection of shady stories...

Prophets like water...everywhere...

Wino spelled backward is Apostle...

Miracles a contact high...unreal...

How can such a work...

Teach one damn thing...

To a murderous boy...

With no name...

Just "Kid" or "It"

Ain't no book for him...

He has a rotten heart...

Serial kill him...

Drag him up from Hell...

And do it again...


Before this man slaying kid...

Before there was a Bible...

Humans acted instinctively...

Wrong and right were natural born...

Not one damn preacher...

Parables were burned in the fire...

As one worshiped self...

Not The Good Book...

No metaphoric abstractions...

In the days of black and white...

Kill your fellow or not, it was a choice...

Absent cyclic self-reflection...

And live with it...

Who the hell wants to know...

About the dead man down the road...

Chris Roberts, Patron Saint of All of Me
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  48 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Vann Has a Dark Brilliance In Him 26 Jun 2013
By Bonnie Brody - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is one of the hardest reviews I have ever had to write. My difficulties lie with both the thematic content of the book and the stylistic qualities. The writing is rich with allegory and metaphor, filled with theology, philosophy, and archetype. However, it is not an easy book to read both because of the writing style and the horrendous violence. Readers should be aware that this is not a book for the faint of heart and that knowledge of some biblical history would be helpful in understanding the novel.

The story is about a boy, his father, grandfather, and close family friend named Tom who go out for a hunt. This is to be the eleven year-old boy's first buck hunt and he is to kill his first buck. Throughout the book, the only name we are privy to is Tom's. The others are just the boy, his father, and his grandfather. The year is 1976 and they own a 640 acre ranch in northern California where the hunt is to take place. The story is told from the vantage point of the adult boy who remembers these events. A poacher is discovered on the land through the viewfinder on the father's rifle. He gives his rifle to the boy to look through and the boy shoots the poacher dead with one shot. As the boy says, "I was trained to raise a shotgun and fire..." and "Some part in me just wanted to kill, constantly and without end." The boy smiles after the kill and doesn't appear to feel remorse but everything in their lives changes after this happens.

The boy feels more remorse in the killing of a buck than he ever feels for the dead man. Talking about the buck he says that "What I knew was that he wanted to live. Something I could never have felt for the dead man, the pull of a trigger too easy, a trigger something that makes us forget what killing means. But in my hands I could feel the pulse of the buck's neck, the panic in him...."

The question becomes what to do with the dead man. Should it be reported to the authorities or should they bury him and pretend it never happened. What they do instead is hang him up like a buck in their camp, covering him with a burlap sack. It is still up in the air as to what will happen with the authorities, if anything, and dissension abounds. The boy is pummeled by his father and his grandfather thinks about killing him, even holding a knife to the boy's neck at one point. The boy says "What we had to fear was inside me, and he was not able to reach that. His fists did nothing. And I think he knew." "There are times I get excited and think I did something beautiful in killing that poacher." Tom wants to report everything to the authorities, the father wants everything to just go away and the grandfather feels murderously towards the boy.

Almost each chapter starts with a reference to something from the bible or mythology. "The bible celebrates many killings." Cain and Abel are mentioned frequently, as are Jesus, the Greek Gods, Noah, Pan, David and Goliath, Medusa and even mermaids. For those who are not familiar with Cain, he was the first-born in the bible who killed his brother Abel, the first fratricide. There are those who believe Cain was not truly Adam's son but the spawn of the devil. There are references to the boy acting as if he were a snake, crawling low down and slithering to the spot where the dead poacher lay. "I slithered my way up that steep canyon slope, my belly in the dirt, and I refused to be left behind. I did not pause or rest, and I kept that rifle clenched in my fist and wouldn't let go. Taste of dirt, of all that has rotted and decayed and lain dormant, all that waits and then is released."

Evolution and geology are also examined, both exalted and feared, as the author talks about neanderthals, giants, and the turns of the earth through time and circumstance. Still, killing and death remain connected to everything. "Dinosaurs happened in a different world. But killing is still with us. Killing is a past world that overlaps with ours, and if we can reach back into it, our lives are doubled." "Our history was somewhere in all that we had killed, and it was a history, certainly, without words, a history that could be told only in shapes with more direct corollaries."

The boy is ridden with plagues - brambles, poison oak, weights too huge for him to bear, isolation, exhaustion and hunger. The biblical elements are important aspects of this novel. Regarding Cain, "Part of us will act according to instinct, and that will never change. And one of our first instincts is to kill. The Ten Commandments is a list of our instincts that will never leave us." "Born into a world of butchery, a child will embrace butchery and find it normal. Or at least I did."

The writing is visceral and the themes frightening. Sometimes it feels like the story is written in a train of consciousness and at other times it feels like it is wrought out with every sentence ordered and placed in its proper space. The landscape as a living thing plays a huge role in the telling of this tale and the human as landscape also is important. "My grandfather a mountain and without age." The book is very difficult to read. Its style reminded me of Cormac McCarthy, a writer I have difficulty reading. Thematically, the violence and the horrors were like a gut shot. I felt like I bled out while reading this book. If that is a sign of a great book, then that is what this is. If that is a sign of a book that kills the reader, then it can be interpreted that way as well. So how do I rate it. Is it a '1' or a '5'. I have to rate it a '5' because I am reeling from its intensity and significance. It is a book I will not soon forget and David Vann has a dark brilliance in him.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...this hunt was the first time I'd be allowed to kill." 5 July 2013
By Evelyn A. Getchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
GOAT MOUNTAIN by David Vann is a powerful, unsparing meditation on man's most primal of instincts - to kill. It is an adrenalin powered narrative, fearlessly violent and frighteningly brutal yet also poetic, sacred and profound. It is the fourth work of fiction I have read by Vann and in my mind it is the very best he has written. It is in my opinion David Vann's literary masterpiece.

GOAT MOUNTAIN is perhaps also David Vann's most intense work. Its deep and complex content is pure wisdom, both ancient and modern. It demands a slow and deliberate reading, and certainly not a cursory one. In fact, I could only read this book one chapter at a time, not merely to pace myself so that I could savor every superbly crafted sentence, but to allow myself the space to completely absorb each chapter before moving on to the next.

I surrendered completely to Vann's penetrative narrative, a narrative so philosophically and psychologically dynamic that it took me to the deepest recesses of the mind and the darkest night of the soul, requiring that I pause frequently just to come up for air.

I always love a book I can sink my teeth into but rather GOAT MOUNTAIN sunk its teeth into me! I am still held captive in the jaws of this powerful beast. This is a story I know will have an enduring grip on my mind.

It is the fall of 1978 and an eleven year old boy, his father, his grandfather, and his father's best friend Tom head into the remote and rugged landscape of Northern California to buck hunt on the family land. The hunt is a tradition, a ritual with these men, and for the boy - "Eleven years old now, and I'd been shooting this rifle for two years, looking for bucks since before I could remember, but this hunt was the first time I'd be allowed to kill. Illegal still in age, but old enough by family law."

The narrator of the story is the boy yet we never truly hear the voice of a child. The first person POV has all the depth of perception and moral insightfulness of an adult and this is because the narration is actually the adult reflection of a tormented man exorcising his demons, trying to remember all the staggering details of that fateful day in 1978 when he that boy became a man - the day he learned that every action has a consequence, that every soul must reap what it sows.

Yes, this is a man's story to be certain, but in character only. There is a distinct absence of the feminine save for passing references to the birthing process in which the female serves as the portal into this life. Yet this story is still a genderless, universal one applying to all souls for the soul is itself without gender, or even a species for that matter.

Vann's allegorical use of biblical and liturgical motifs in GOAT MOUNTAIN is nothing short of brilliant. Grandfather, father and the boy are the trinity of father, son and holy spirit - three souls who are one in essence, in blood, but not in their person. Killing of beast and man is a sacrificial rite of passage, a gruesome sort of Christian mass without benediction, the sanctified taking of the sacrament at the sacrificial altar. The setting of the hunting camp is a church with the trees serving as pillars of stone, the sky as the dome, the looming mountain behind as the nave. And of hell - "We all go to hell. No one to save us. Hell is our desire to be saved, our suffering contained in this desire. No animals torture themselves with this. The buck I killed did not hope for an afterlife."

Every sentence from first to last in GOAT MOUNTAIN is pure poetry, creating a fiercely beautiful allegory of violence and morality raising issue with everything three men and an eleven year old boy believe about life. On Goat Mountain it reaches climax in a final, crushing confrontation between death and a God without end, a denouement that brought me to my knees.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars To Write Does Not Make Right 21 July 2013
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
An eleven-year-old boy goes up the mountain in a pickup truck with his father, his grandfather, and a family friend, for the first day of the hunting season. It is his moment to enter manhood, to bag his first buck, and he is possessed by the urge to kill. His father sees a poacher on their land, and shows the boy through the crosshairs of his loaded rifle. The boy pulls the trigger; the poacher dies. All the rest follows from this moment, and in a way leads to it.

As a writer, David Vann has two huge things going for him. He is a master of words, comparable to Faulkner, Hemingway, or the poet James Dickey in DELIVERANCE, another story of a wilderness trip gone horribly wrong. And he clearly writes out of some deep personal trauma that he cannot shake off. The only other book of his I have read, LEGEND OF A SUICIDE, is an avowed attempt to come to terms with his father's suicide. The same mixture of intense love and hatred is found here, and although the specific trauma is less clear, it is obvious that this is the work of a deeply wounded man. That is both Vann's strength and his liability.

I want to focus on only one aspect: Time. Had this story been written in the present, either in the voice of the boy, or that of an omniscient narrator, it would have had an impact rather like that of William Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES; the perspective of time would not be an issue. But right from the first paragraph you see a huge contrast between the assured, sophisticated style of the present-day writer and the young boy years before who is the nominal first-person narrator. This contrast makes it impossible to confine the book solely to a weekend in 1978. Something must have happened in the intervening 35 years. Other than a certain facility with words, what has the boy-man learned in this time that makes it possible for him to look himself in the eye? I do not necessarily look for redemption, and total resolution may be impossible, but I do expect some growth in understanding and self-knowledge, some personal transformation that can at least begin to address the moral consequences of murder. Alas, I did not find them.

Consider three possible time-frames:
1, the immediate story of the next 48 hours in the woods;
2, the practical details of the next few weeks when they get back to town and either do or do not explain the deaths (for there will be more than one) and other consequences of the hunt; and
3, whatever personal disintegration or growth takes place over the next three decades.

Vann is superb on the 48-hour scale, painting in horrific detail the quarrels between the men, the difficulty of disposing of the body, and the boy's botched and bloody slaughter of his stag, the greatest possible contrast to his long-distance shooting of the poacher. But he entirely ignores the other two time-frames. Anyone who, like me, read long into the night anxious to find out what happens next will be sorely disappointed; the book just stops. The author does not think this matters, but I do. It is incredible that there would not have been some police investigation into at least some of the deaths and gunshot wounds they left in their wake. And even if nobody in the family was ever indicted, the very fact of having to deal with the law would force them to form some kind of story in their own minds, and be the first step towards whatever changes might take place in the following decades. Without it, and without clear evidence of acquired wisdom on the part of the older narrator, everything needs to be tied up on the mountain itself -- and morally at least, I don't think it was.

Instead of moving forward, Vann does the opposite, going back to the very beginning of time: to Cain the first murderer, Abraham and Isaac, the passion of Jesus, and an assortment of pagan myths into the bargain. Killing, he implies, is hard-wired into the human DNA; there is no escaping it. Virtually every chapter begins with a similar meditation, quickly becoming repetitious when it is not simply nihilistic or blasphemous: "The beast is what makes the man. We drink the blood of Christ so we can become animals again, tearing throats open and drinking blood, bathing in blood, devouring flesh, remembering who we are, reaching back and returning." Worse, he begins to cast the present-day characters in this archetypal mold. The grandfather, for instance, becomes the fierce God of the Old Testament and is made to do things quite at odds with the diabetic decrepitude of his physical condition. I suppose it is a magnificent tightrope act so long as you don't look down, but about halfway through the book, I suddenly saw it for what it was: melodramatic grand-guignol cloaked in spurious philosophy. Before long, I was actually bored, reading on only for a denouement that I wasn't even allowed.

I have no doubt that David Vann has major issues that he needs to work through. Bravo to him for writing about them. But that in itself is not enough. I find something self-indulgent in using words to wallow in shame, loathing, and degradation; to merely recreate the experience is not to learn from it. The ability to write does not make it right.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The kill 21 Nov 2013
By Penguin Chick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an astounding read that will touch you on so many levels. A boy out with his trusted family on his first deer hunt.

It's told from the voice of an adult recounting his experiences 35 years before and as the events unfold you will be rendered fairly speechless as the bounds of instinct, love, and loyalty are shared.

David Vann is a brilliant author who takes us from that gripping moment where a dad sees a poacher in his sights to the point where he and his son's lives are forever changed. The book is filled with opportunity to find your compassion and your reason and hold it up against the events as they were.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Story About Loss 4 Nov 2013
By Michael Moisio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Readers will focus on the immediacy of these few days and these few men on Goat Mountain but this story is about loss. The obvious religious allusions say more about the narrator than the author, but the distance from which the story is told compels the reader to seek full understanding of the narrator. What has made this reluctant Sunday School boy grow up to retrospectively equate his elemental grandfather with Abraham and the mountain with a restive Pan?

While it often feels as if an eleven year old boy is speaking, the reader has to remember that the story is told by the boy as an adult. Vann reminds us of that adult presence only occasionally but with a subtle force, like when the narrator tells us he is pacing his apartment or that that he can never return to the family property on Goat Mountain.

These brief images convey frustration at something lost. The story of the days on the mountain must be the essence of what has been lost and, perhaps, the cause of that loss. And the essence is bittersweet, evoking aspects of both heaven and hell. If we are missing anything as readers it is more about the present-day narrator. His shadow over the events on the mountain is titillating but somehow incomplete; it hides too much of the transformation from penitent boy to suffering adult.
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