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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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 October 2013
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?
The reader is left wondering, especially about the child, who feels alive instead of feeling remorse, because of his actions.
The moral of the story being perhaps that some things can't be undone and we cannot control our genetic footprint but can we control whether we choose to act on the compulsion brought about by that footprint.
On a more base level it also questions the morality of hunting. Why is killing the man a crime of murder and yet the hunting/killing of the animal considered to be a right, a sport and an extension of our prior caveman existence. Humans elevate themselves to a level of superiority and everything beneath that is a sub-species, which makes it morally right to hunt and kill animals just for the fun of it.
I enjoyed it. It was one of those books you tend to remember.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.
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on 29 March 2015
I can understand the feelings of the reviewer that commented on the "pseudo-intellectual internal dialogue" to some extent - there were occasions when I felt it was a little over the top as well. I think though that the reviewer missed the point - the internal musings of the adult version of the main (child) character are part and parcel of the story - he has formed those opinions largely because of his past experiences on goat mountain. In some ways he grew up too quickly, and in other ways he never grew up at all.

The story is basic - 3 men (Grandfather, father, son, and Tom - the only person that actually gets named) and a child head up to goat mountain for their annual hunting trip. The child kills a poacher. This happens in the first few pages, so I don't think it's any kind of spoiler. Even the blurb on the back pretty much gives it away. The book is then about how the four people handle - or completely fail to handle! - that single event.

The writing is stark, and upsetting in places. There is a long scene in the middle of the book where the boy makes his first (non-human!) kill. It's messy, bloody and traumatic. More so even than the fact that he has already killed a man in cold blood.

The book provides no answers. It doesn't tell us what became of people. We know the child is still alive as an adult because he is narrating from the future. Other than that, nothing. It asks a lot of questions though, and the adult-boy is obviously still trying to work things out.

In the dedication at the back of the book Vann mentions that this was his way of getting the family history of violence out of his system. I'm not familiar with his background, but man did he have a messed up childhood if this is any indication!

I'd heartily recommend this book, but not for a cheerful holiday read by the pool!
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on 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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on 16 September 2014
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on 13 January 2016
One wonders if Vann will ever write more optimistic books. On the other hand: his stories are like life itself.
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on 31 July 2016
A very scary book. Poor boy.Who is to blame ? The family around him. Very interesting.
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on 21 July 2014
I bought this book, largely based on the cover - which is my un-scientific method of choosing books. Unfortuntately, in my opinion the cover of this book is by far the best part. I thought this book was atrocious. It could possibly have worked as a 40-page short story, but it has been fleshed out with truly dreadful pseudo-intellectual internal dialogue and musings on God and nature. However, all this musing is clumsy, heavy-handed and very inauthentic. I did finish it. It is now in my recycling bin. I may keep the cover.

PS. I once left a negative review for a book on here, and within a couple of hours a glowing review, contesting mine, had appeared. I'm sure nothing to do with the publishers.
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