In David Vann's searing novel Goat Mountain, an 11-year-old boy at his family's annual deer hunt is eager to make his first kill. 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.
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.
David Vann is the award-winning author of Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island, A Mile Down, and Last Day on Earth.
Dust like powder blanketing the air, making a reddish apparition of the day. Smell of that dust and smell of pine, smell of doveweed. The pickup a segmented creature, head twisting opposite the body. A sharp bend and I nearly tumbled off the side.
Kneeling on a mattress tied over the pickup bed, all the camping gear beneath. Northern California, 1978. Gripping through lurches and bends, the metal hot even in morning. Switchbacks up the mountain. I had a shoebox of rocks, and when we hit straight sections of road I'd grab a rock and huck it at a passing tree. The fling and bend, the stone thrown to the side, a thrumming sound, turning and chopping through thick air but swept forward by momentum. Forced off course, bent into an arc, swept forward beyond intent. I had a feel already for that arc, prefiguring it, aiming well behind. Pumping a fist into the air whenever stone bit into flesh. The heavy thud over the growl of the engine, perhaps even a glimpse of...
If David Vann's parable is too overt and repetitive (even at novella length it can feel too long), its subversion of religious imagery is still unforgettable. Could it be that violence is a language of its own? Might the seemingly inescapable cycle of taboo and transgression simply be a random product of human evolution? These are some of the questions Vann raises in this disturbing, audacious, and deeply impressive allegory.
(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).
Full Review (1127 words).
David Vann fits into an American literary tradition that has been around since the 1960s, but was only given a name in 1983. Bill Buford, former editor of Granta literary magazine, coined the term "dirty realism" to characterize two trends in American fiction: a tendency toward simplified language, largely free from adverbs or flowery language (as is true of Vann's matter-of-fact prose in Goat Mountain), and frank consideration of the awfulness of ordinary, lower- or middle-class lives.
A post-Cold War phenomenon, dirty realism arose in an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia. It often reflects on capitalism and consumerism through the experiences of blue-collar workers, sometimes using black humor to lighten the mood. The characters ...
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