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Goat Mountain: A Novel

Goat Mountain: A Novel

4.8 4
by David Vann

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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 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vann (Dirt) offers a meditation on violence set during a deer hunt on a Northern California mountain in 1978. The narrator recalls in flashback a few “days I want to remember in every smallest detail,” when his 11-year-old self, seeking his first buck, “just wanted to kill, constantly and without end.” But the hunt’s first victim proves to be a person, not a deer. The boy sights a poacher through his rifle scope and, purposefully but seemingly without conscious malice, shoots him dead. Through most of the narrative, the narrator, his father, grandfather, and family friend Tom quarrel about what to do with the body, for a time trussing it up like a dead deer. The men’s bonds gradually collapse until, in the harrowing climax, the grandfather reaches a decision, with Old Testament finality, about how to evade the consequences of the boy’s actions. The adult narrator steps out of flashback periodically to ponder the nature of killing: “There was no joy as complete and immediate as killing.” This flint-hard novel, in its intensity, will likely be compared to the work of Cormac McCarthy. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Vann's third novel is his most visceral yet: a grinding examination of killing, God and the unnamable forces that create a dynasty of violence. An 11-year-old boy, his father, grandfather, and his father's best friend, Tom, make the trip to Goat Mountain, a vast family ranch, for their annual deer hunt. When they arrive, in the distance they see an orange-vested hunter sitting on a rock, a poacher on their land. The father spies on the stranger through the scope of his gun. He calls his son over to have a look. When the boy sights the poacher through the cross hairs, he pulls the trigger and shoots. The man is obviously dead--a giant hole through him--and now nothing will be the same. The boy, now a man, narrates this story in a staccato of images, as if remembrance is impossible when accessing the mind of a child, and says "[s]ome part of me was not right, and the source of that can never be discovered." The men call him a monster, but what can be done? The father throws the body into the back of the pickup, drives to their campsite and strings the man up as they do deer, year after year. The boy is so remorseless, he seems an innocent, and the grandfather wants him murdered (even tries to kill him one night). Tom wants to head back and tell the police, but the father doesn't know what to do, and so, in his moral inertia, he continues the hunting trip, making meals, flushing out game, sleeping at night, all as the dead man hangs and festers. The narrator meditates on the Bible and its glorification of violence, of our inescapable murderous legacy, and that "[t]he act of killing might even be the act that creates god." Nothing that begins so badly can end well, yet there is also something comforting in the inevitable; when a gun is loaded, the bullet yearns for a home. This book is as all of Vann's fiction: provocative and unforgiving.
The Economist
“The Story has the power of a bullet fired from a gun.”
The Clermont Sun
“You’ve been waiting a long time for a novel that’ll capture your attention like this does, which makes Goat Mountain the book to hunt for.”
Anchorage Daily News
“Vann has crafted a gripping masterpiece”
San Jose Mercury News
“[A] deep meditation on death, religion and legacy.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Readers will devour Vann’s masterful plotting.”
Craig Johnson
“Meet David Vann, one the most talented writers in the American West. Goat Mountain, with all its responsibility and recriminations, is the man at his absolute finest.”
Robert Morgan
“This book is written on the edge, a story of legacies, cruelty, the mysteries of DNA and blood, rewarding the reader sentence by sentence and scene by scene right to the astonishing and terrifying ending.”
Robert Olen Butler
“David Vann is at once the most timely and timeless of writers . . . Goat Mountain is a ravishing example of his mastery. . . . This book will touch you to the depths of our shared, flawed humanity.”
“[Goat Mountain] may just may be his finest, most contemplative work to date.”
Library Journal
Internationally acclaimed and best-selling author Vann (Caribou Island; Legend of a Suicide) unveils a shocking and disturbing novel about a deer-hunting trip to a remote 640-acre family ranch in northern California gone tragically, monstrously awry. The book offers a meditation on the violent nature of man, an extended disquisition on Cain and Abel, the Bible, the condition of man's relationship to God, and the "beast" within us all. Alaska-born Vann experienced catastrophic family violence in his past, and his work has returned to this theme again and again, this being his most ambitious exploration of the subject. Vann brings this existentialist family drama about living and killing to life powerfully and convincingly through a charismatic, violent grandfather, a well-meaning father, and the father's dangerous, sometimes inscrutable 11-year-old son, who kills two men on this ill-fated trip. The author's descriptions of the northern California landscape--the chaparral, woods, and mountains—are also masterly. VERDICT This beautifully realized novel is recommended for fans of literary fiction but is not for the faint of heart.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Published in twenty languages, David Vann's internationally bestselling books have won fifteen prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain, and have appeared on seventy-five Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He's written for the New York Times, Atlantic, Esquire, Outside, Sunset, Men's Journal, McSweeney's, and many other publications, and he has been a Guggenheim, Stegner, and NEA fellow.

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Goat Mountain 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
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.
CherylM-M More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is great. Eight of ten. I know! *Flies to suggestion res thrwe.*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago