Book of the Week: Goat Mountain – David Vann

Here’s a guy with an interesting career to date. His first collection of stories, Legend of a Suicide, was originally published by the University of Massachusetts Press (and later picked up by us in paperback). It had a very modest distribution even by the standards of story collections. But then some heavy hitters in the review world started weighing in. The Sunday Times (London)  called it “an American classic” and the Financial Times called it “extraordinary.” It became an international bestseller and winner of the 2010 Prix Médicis étranger in France, the L’Express Readers’ Prize, the Grace Paley Prize, a California Book Award, and was named to 29 Best Books of the Year lists.

That was 2008. In 2011 Caribou Island, Vann published his first novel. (No pressure, man.) That one received reviews like I have never seen. It stunned readers and got the kind of reviews I very rarely see. Things like this from The Economist:  “[Vann uses] American landscape as a metaphor to tremendous effect. . . . [his] brilliance as a writer lies in his willingness to expose everything. . . . A writer to read and reread; a man to watch carefully.” Ron Charles of the Washington Post wrote a revelatory review that concluded, “For a few moments after this perfectly choreographed horror, it’s impossible to say anything at all.”

A confession here: Though I love a dark, emotionally penetrating novel, I couldn’t get through that one. Vann went to places I just couldn’t follow. Beautiful writing. Brilliant but too emotionally harrowing for me. Happily not so for the many serious reviewers who praised it.

So we’re now three novels into Vann’s career. The day advance reading copies of Goat Mountain arrived in my garage/book processing room, I opened up this short novel in the middle and half an hour later I was still standing there reading. A couple hours later I was done. It was literally one of those “drop everything” experiences.

The guy is a remarkable writer and this tough, short, penetrating novel felt like the marriage of Cormac McCarthy and Sartre. I’ll turn it over to the advance reviews now, but conclude by saying if you want to read a new American writer of the very first order Vann is one to pick up.

 Vann 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,’ … 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… This flint-hard novel, in its intensity, will likely be compared to the work of Cormac McCarthy.”
Publishers Weekly Book of the Week on 7/1/13.

“Shocking. . . . The author’s descriptions of the northern California landscape–the chaparral, woods, and mountains-are also masterly. . . . This beautifully realized novel is recommended for fans of literary fiction but is not for the faint of heart.”
— Library Journal (starred review)

“[Goat Mountain] may just may be his finest, most contemplative work to date.”
— Booklist

“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. . . . This book is as all of Vann’s fiction: provocative and unforgiving.”
— Kirkus Reviews

Goat Mountain (9780062121097) By David Vann. $25.99 hardcover. 9/10/13 on sale.

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