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Brad Land is a young man in search of escape, and looking forward to attending Clemson University with his younger brother, Brett. But one night, as he's leaving a party, Brad crosses paths with the wrong people and is brutally assaulted; his wounds are not only physical but psychological as well.
In the lonely, terrifying aftermath of the attack, Brad licks his wounds at home. Brett has gone ahead to Clemson and quickly joins a fraternity. Initially derailed by the crime, Brad's college plans materialize, and he is rapidly swept up in Brett's world of rush parties. Brad endures cruel, dehumanizing hazing rituals in an attempt to live up to his younger brother. But to Brad's dismay, Brett keeps his distance; he understands that acceptance in the fraternal world can only be won alone.
Land's spare language, drawing comparisons to A Million Little Pieces and Fight Club, never loses the delicate thread of complicated emotions he feels, perfectly highlighting the vulnerability of a young man forced to face the violence inflicted upon him. When the fraternity brothers turn their unique brand of savagery on one of Brad's fellow pledges with disastrous results, he must confront a painful choice: to accept the false refuge of becoming one of "them" or to cast himself out, seeking courage and strength in kindness, rather than in "belonging."
(Winter/Spring 2004 Selection)
The New York Times
Perhaps Land should be applauded for refusing to fall into jostling step with male memoirists like Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors), a bawdy raconteur who turns personal humiliation into a great occasion to entertain, or James Frey, whose A Million Little Pieces is a staccato, tough-guy recounting of his physical (not psychological) feats of endurance as a recovering Olympian substance abuser. Land is more focused on his psychological weakness, and this is daring; it risks his appearing unsympathetic or even pathetic. Considering the book's maudlin temperament, and the way the interior landscape of an unstable mind overpowers external events, Goat actually has more in common with an autobiographical novel by a dead female poet -- namely, The Bell Jar.
With a uniquely hip narrative style, gritty with plenty of heart, Land recounts what it's like to pledge a fraternity in order to gain his peers' respect and admiration. Complicating matters, Land has never recovered from an earlier assault, in which the trusting and na ve 20-year-old picks up two strangers in need of a ride, who proceed to rob, beat and abduct him. Traumatized, Land doesn't receive sympathy from police, who insist the kidnapping must be linked to wrongdoing on his part. His assailants, whom Land wryly nicknames "the smile" and "breath," are later captured, but the crime's emotional fallout dogs Land as he tries to move on, deepening his attachment to his younger, self-centered brother, Brett, who betrays him at every chance, including going after his fragile sibling's girlfriend. When Brett leaves for Clemson and joins a fraternity, Kappa Sigma, the author follows, thinking it will help him fit in with others and heal, but barbaric hazing rituals of humiliation and intimidation revive the phobias linked to his abduction. As the abuse against new pledges ("goats") continues, Land questions the value of the frat group's thinking, the surrendering of one's will to violence and his desperate need to belong, especially after another pledge dies of a heart attack following an intense round of hazing. In the end, Land, now 27, walks away from it all, reclaiming himself from his dark past and brutally bleak present. Immensely readable, Land's tough yet tender book speaks to the fears and isolation of young alienated adults with compelling power, candor and compassion. Agent, Bill Clegg. (On sale Feb. 17) Forecast: A national print and radio campaign, ad blitz in the leading alternative media and an online outreach to students could make Land's book a hit with the college crowd and recent grads. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This is the story of two brutal and shocking events-the night Land was beaten and left for dead at age 19 and, a few years later, the semester of hazing and torture that he suffered while pledging a fraternity at Clemson University (SC). In the hands of a less skilled writer, it would be too gruesome for many readers. Land, however, writes with artistry and gives meaning to the violence, in turn speaking to the darkest side of American life. His inability to say no results in his near-fatal beating (a couple of strangers ask him for a ride from a party)-and his resultant mental incapacitation perhaps allows him to tolerate the abuse during pledging. This is a scathing indictment of the entire fraternity system at Clemson: beatings, sexual escapades, and rampant alcoholism are the norm on campus. Throughout the rush, Land is the "goat," the pledge who never fits in, and underlying his angst is his inability to "hook up" with women. The estrangement from his younger brother, already in the fraternity, builds, and in the end, a different pledge dies of an alleged heart attack (he was only 18). This is one of those impossible-to-put-down books, though readers may need to take a breather from the violence and graphic language; conversations and comments are as brutally frank as the story itself. This will be widely read as one of the first books about assaults on men. Clemson should not be proud. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/03.]-Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Land's memoir about fraternity hazing and his relationship with his charismatic, more confident younger brother, Brett, has received a lot of publicity. However, in spite of all the hype, it is not well written and it's unlikely to resonate with most teens. Brad, 19, recovering from a vicious assault by two hitchhikers he picked up, decided to follow Brett to Clemson University. The steely, mysterious sophomore was a Kappa Sigma, and an admiring, uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin Brad decided to pledge the same frat. Teens will either identify and sympathize with Brad or become increasingly annoyed with his naivete. Getting Vaseline smeared in one's hair and being pegged with footballs will probably (if unfortunately) not seem terribly out of the ordinary-as hazing rituals go-to most readers. To Brad, they were acts of savagery. When he bought a pack of cigarettes and the cashier told him that he was going to die, he took her for a modern-day Cassandra with an important message from the dark beyond. Brad dropped out of rush. In what would be an embarrassingly bad finale if this memoir were fiction, a man from his pledge class died of a heart attack the day after he was informed that he hadn't been accepted into the fraternity. Brad blamed the Kappa Sigs. The best part of the book is Land's description of his relationship with his brother, which is reminiscent of Rich Wallace's treatment of the best friends in Wrestling Sturbridge (Knopf, 1997). However, that title runs circles around Goat.-Emily Lloyd, Rehoboth Beach Public Library, DE Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A mugging and a hazing, both ferociously vile, have their victim closing on the edge of sanity in his debut memoir of two abominable years. The way Land tells it, in clipped and painful sentences, he has always been a bit rickety, jumpy and shaky at even the best of times. These are not the best of times. The story starts when he gives a lift to a couple of strangers, who proceed, in an extended, excruciating assault, to beat him into jelly. Land describes the attack in writing that stutters, turns back on itself, repeats, and then surges forward in erratic strides. He calls his assailants "breath" and "smile," the only things he remembers about them. His physical recovery is slow, while his emotional recovery stalls; he's too shaken to follow through on a pre-beating plan to apply with his much-loved younger brother for a transfer from their hometown college to Clemson University, 70 miles away in South Carolina. Brett goes anyway, and when Brad finally makes it to Clemson eight months later, he senses a poison in the air, much of it radiating from his brother's fraternity. Compelled by forces he doesn't understand-obligation, tradition, security-he submits to the pledging process, which includes a ritualistic, sadistic hazing that closely reprises his experience with smile and breath, enhanced by toxic levels of alcohol. He finally walks away in a moment of grace so contrary to all that went before that the reader wants to shout as Brad asserts his free will and self-preservation: "I pass from them quietly, and then nothing's left. No one remembers my name." Another pledge is not so lucky and dies of a heart attack at age 18. How Land can stand to revisit these miseries with suchdelirious pungency would be a wonder, except that his sense of relief at having survived them is palpable. Fine, grim work.
Read an Excerpt
This is how it goes:
We’re getting floored at a beginning-of-the-semester party. Me, my younger brother Brett, these three people we came with. At this old fraternity house. Two stories with a big front porch and a backyard with a chain-link fence.
Brett’s on the porch standing next to me. People moving all over the place. Like cells. Everything pulsing. All sweat and smoke. The house is breathing.
These two girls come up. Just stand there looking us over. One of the girls looks at Brett like she loves him already. She’s short and has long hair pulled into a ponytail. Legs all muscled like a soccer player’s. She’s wearing a Zeppelin T-shirt with a hole beneath the neck cuff. The other girl’s standing beside her all bucktoothed and shaky. Got a tattoo on her left shoulder blade. Something swirled and tribal. Her arms crossed. I give her a smoke and she nods, cups one hand around the lighter I hold out and I can tell she’s drunk by the way her eyes wobble, the way she squints them against the porch lights. The other girl rubs the shaky one’s back, runs her hand down and pauses in the bare patch of skin between her jeans and top. The shaky girl looks her over and smiles. Brett tells them to kiss. They look at each other and laugh and then the shaky girl moves toward the other one, puts a hand around her waist and holds the cigarette out to the side. Her tongue’s out and inside the other’s mouth and they lock together, wet cheeks pulsing with the overhead light. The shaky one steps back and pulls on the smoke, exhales and looks at Brett. I’m staring at the two girls and the shaky girl asks if that was okay, and Brett says yeah that was cool, and I nod, say yeah good, and then Brett says do it again and they just laugh. The short girl says you don’t even know us and Brett says so and cocks back his beer. When he brings it down, she takes the beer from Brett and drinks. Hands it back. And now the shaky girl looks at me like she knows something about me with my skinny arms and black hair all matted from the hot air outside. Brett’s talking to the short girl and I don’t know what to say with this shaky one staring at me. The short one leans, whispers in her friend’s ear. They turn and walk away.
Brett tells me they want us to come over later.
I nod like it’s standard.
School’s two days away, and for both Brett and me, it’s the whole college-in-the-same-town-you-went-to-high-school-in thing. It’ll be my second year, Brett’s first, and right now I’m not too happy with this small liberal arts school because it’s backward and I went to high school with most everyone there, but for right now, just right now, it’s okay because my brother’s here.
I couldn’t hack school last year at another college because I was lonely and I failed most everything. I tell everyone it was from the drugs or the alcohol but the truth is I was just lonely and cried all the time and lived in an old house with lots of dust.
This is what they say:
Didn’t like it there man? That place is fucking cool, fucking badass town man, why’d you leave man, I mean why’d you come back here?
This is what I say:
Too much, just too much.
And then they say this:
Yeah man I understand that I mean that town does it to the best of them man, gets everybody all fucked up with all that shit they got there, there’s so much shit there man, you know I understand that shit really.
And Brett gave up a soccer scholarship upstate. He didn’t want to do the summer workout and couldn’t make up his mind about anything, and it’s lame to be here and we know it, but it’s cool and livable for a little while because just a few minutes ago Brett and I decided to leave here next semester. We got the idea a few days ago when we helped a friend move in at Clemson where everything’s huge and it’s where my grandfather went and where my dad went and after we decided Brett said fuck yeah and I said yeah fuck man.
Both of us.
So this party in August is the beginning of the end of our time here.
We leave after Christmas.
This party is just a party with people from all over the town, which is not really a college town even though we have a college. Brett and I aren’t in a fraternity but it doesn’t matter even though it’s a frat party because if there’s a party, any party, anyone who sees it, or knows about it, or hears about it comes, because the town’s small and there’s not much else to do.
The town’s named Florence and it’s this crumbling place in South Carolina with steel mills and railroad tracks. There’s a country club made up of all the old families and the new ones who have money. And even though Brett and I have lived here for three years we don’t come from here and our dad’s a preacher but he’s strange (not like hellfire crazy strange, or standing on a sidewalk holding a Bible up in the air strange, but just strange, like once he melted down the gold caps from his teeth and made them into a cross) and he doesn’t have enough money to be in the club and neither does my mother (she’s a school nurse and when we get sick she’s always the one who tells us we’ll be better soon, tells us what pills to eat) but occasionally we get invited to their parties because we know the sons and the daughters, and it’s always us just standing there with our cigarettes and the free booze, but we know we aren’t like them and we couldn’t marry one of the daughters because we don’t come from where their future husbands are supposed to.
Brett’s only thirteen months younger than me but bigger and everyone we meet thinks he’s older and I have to say nah it’s me thirteen months and two days.
Point at my chest.
That’s how it always goes. Me measuring up to my brother. He’s good-looking and all the girls swoon when they see him. Six-one. Dark skin. Brown hair. Broad shoulders. This chiseled face. My mom and dad say I’m good-looking but it’s not the same as when a girl says it.
For example: My brother and me in our grandparents’ driveway playing basketball. I am fifteen. He is fourteen. I am tall for my age, the only growth spurt I really ever have, full of acne, awkward, he is shorter and still has that boy look to him. My first cousin (two years younger, a girl) comes over with one of her friends. They stand there and look us over, hands on their hips. My cousin looks over at her friend, says what do you think about Brett, like she’s trying to set her friend up and the friend says oh he’s fine. Gnaws her fingernail. My cousin asks about me. Weird, the friend says, he’s weird. Looks at the ground.
There you go.
And it isn’t just the looks. It’s everything. Brett is athletic. He makes all-state in soccer junior and senior years. I quit soccer when I am twelve. I quit tennis when I am fourteen. I am good at neither. But mostly it’s just the air about him. Like he can have anything he wants. He just needs to point.
Me seventeen. Him sixteen. Me drunk and standing by a fire. Arms crossed. Brett inside the tent, the door zipped. The tent shifting. I’m facing this girl Kathleen across the fire, her face lit orange, and we don’t know what to say to each other. Breath fogged. Brett’s head from the tent door. Then he’s standing. Kathleen’s cousin Alice leaving the tent after Brett. Brett smoking. Alice shaking. Both back inside the tent. And I keep shaking, looking over at Kathleen with the words stuck. She tells me I’m boring. I tell her I know. I sleep in the dirt beside the fire. Kathleen goes in the tent with Brett and Alice.
But I know that Brett feels sort of the same way about me. Like he wants the things I’ve got. He thinks I am creative. I can play guitar and he wants to be able to do that. I start playing guitar after I quit the violin, then the piano, then the trumpet. And he thinks I’m smart. But I’m always thinking fuck smart and creative. I just feel weird. With Brett and me it’s like this dual-adoration thing but the truth is I’d give all the stuff he wants for all the stuff I want in a heartbeat.
From the Hardcover edition.