Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Goat Mountain by David Vann (5/5)

First published: 2013
Page count: 239

The back says: 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.

I say: How utterly disturbing and yet so beautifully written.

Every fall the boy and narrator, his father, grandfather and his father’s friend Tom drive up to Goat Mountain to hunt. This year, at age eleven, he is to finally make his first kill. But before they even get to the base camp, as the synopsis so conspicuously reveals, the boy shoots and kills a poacher. What follows is a few days of the men arguing about how to deal with the situation, while the boy calmly observes.

The narration is that of the boy as an older man reminiscing about that time and in retrospect compares his kill to the story of Cain and Abel. Time and again he questions what he was thinking at the time, and it often feels like his telling is a form rationalisation in order to come to terms with his crime.

What is the difference between killing a man and killing an animal?

That question lies at the base of the distressing elements of this novel, and with it comes the way that the three men deal with the corpse. Each man looks at the situation, and the boy, from different angles, and it is their inability to understand each other that leads to even more tragedy.

I did not see the end coming and was shocked when it did.

Vann’s prose is straightforward and somewhat repetitive, which is part of what makes it so unsettling. I kept hoping for more emotions from the boy, but he tells the story with such unnerving detachment and matter-of-factness.

5/5 because as troubling as this was, I actually want to re-read it sometime in the future.

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