Goat Mountain

Goat Mountain by David VannTitle: Goat Mountain

Author: David Vann. He is the author of several previous novels, including Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Readers: Project manager Andrea, reading teacher Emry, retiree Nancy, administrative coordinator Cyn and editor Kristina.

Summary: In the fall of 1978, on a 640-acre family ranch on Goat Mountain in Northern California, an eleven-year-old boy joins his grandfather, his father, and his father’s best friend on the family’s annual deer hunt.

Every fall they return to this dry, yellowed landscape dotted with oak, buck brush, and the occasional stand of pine trees. Goat Mountain is what this family owns and where they belong. It is where their history is kept, memories and stories that will be shared again by these men. And for the first time, the boy’s story will be added if he can find a buck. Itching to shoot, he is ready.

When the men arrive at the gate to their land, the father discovers a poacher and sights him through the scope of his gun. He offers his son a look-a simple act that will explode in tragedy, transforming these men and this family, forcing them to question themselves and everything they thought they knew.

Our Take: Right away you should know if this book is for you. While one reviewer found she just couldn’t get into it, the other 4 were quickly immersed. Not an easy book, but one that will get deep under your skin. It’s no mistake that two of our reviewers compared it to a Cormac McCarthy novel.


It’s obvious that David Vann is a very complex writer from the get-go.  His vivid portrayal of a familial rite-of-passage gone wrong is both intriguing and haunting.  His language and imagery really pull you in and the complex questions that the main character grapples with are genuinely thought-provoking.  The connection between life and death, spiritual and physical, ancient and modern are all themes that are wound throughout the book.

I didn’t originally understand the purpose of this book, even after the initial series of events unfolds rather early on in the story. Despite that, I felt like a passenger on this ride and started to slowly let myself get caught up.  It wasn’t until I sat down to write my thoughts on the book that I realized that I never even knew the names of any of the characters in the book except one.  The son, father, and grandfather (also the poacher) all remain nameless throughout and still manage to become very developed characters.

I really ended up enjoying it and felt like it definitely left an impression.  I would definitely recommend it to others.

Grade:  A-



There are two kinds of books that I enjoy—books that make me happy and entertain me, and books that blow me away and make me question the way I look at the world. Goat Mountain falls into the second category.

This book is fantastic. It is gory and dark, depressing and macabre, but it’s glorious. The good writing pulled me in immediately. There is such great imagery throughout the book that I felt as if I were standing alongside the characters (which was rarely a comfortable place to be standing). Nearly every moment the reader is given sounds, sights, smells, and textures to imagine. I’ve read few books that were so enveloping.

The narration of this book is fascinating, too. The story is told by a grown man who is remembering this few-day stretch of his childhood, who at one point even remarks that he wishes he could remember perfectly. The narrator splices musings of Biblical stories into his own personal narrative, an interesting juxtaposition, and seems to be still, years later, trying to make sense of what happened on Goat Mountain. The reader will end up doing the same.

If you like fantastic writing and have a strong stomach, this is the book for you. Do not expect to be entertained; expect to be mesmerized.

Grade: A+

Read Also: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It isn’t one of McCarthy’s more popular novels, but there are similar characters and an equally dark plot.



I loved it…I hated it…Goat Mountain is about a journey an 11 year old takes with his grandfather, his father and a family friend into the wildnerness where he will get his first chance to shoot a buck. Some of the violence, hunting description and the dangers that confront this “child” were very disturbing and not enjoyable to read. However….the writing itself was full of the beauty of the land, the emotions of the 4 characters and the question of man’s faith and his beliefs. I hope this review doesn’t seem to vague but to go into more detail would give away the story as it unfolds and the ending.

I would only recommend this to readers who are willing to take a chance on a book outside their comfort zone. It would be a great book for discussion.

Grade: A-



I know David Vann personally and, having read almost everything he’s published, I knew what I was getting into when I requested Goat Mountain.

Although Goat Mountain is a small story – a boy’s hunting trip with his father, grandfather, and a family friend – encapsulated by a specific place and limited time, It is also enormous and expansive. There are many rich rewards for the close and thoughtful reader, encompassing history, legend, religion and myth. If I were the book club sort I would want to play a game of “spot the Trinity,” and argue at length and with an utter lack of conviction over who (or what) exactly represents God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. But I read this book with a breathless, fearful urgency and a need to know, not just what happens next, but how it ultimately turns out. I will reread Goat Mountain because I have to. Because until I read it and re-read it and re-read it again, I will feel as if I’ve cheated myself out of its beautiful and terrible mysteries.

The hardest thing to notice is what’s not there – the missing thing – and I look forward to spotting more missing things as I re-read Goat Mountain. What stood out on this first read was the absence of “normal” reactions. As adults who have lived in the world long enough to become adults, you and I have a range of acceptable and expected responses to various situations. But the characters in this book do not. Rather, their acceptable and expected responses are different than ours – different than what we consider normal. Toward the end of the book the three adult characters betray the child, but the child never asks why the others did this to him, what their intent was, nor does he ever even wonder. This betrayal, this cruelty, which was so significant and meaningful to me as a reader, lives for the boy in the realm of the expected and acceptable.

Grade: A+

Read Also: All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. Another dense, richly rewarding novel with a young male POV character. Not for the reader who likes to skim, or who will be frustrated to find an awful lot of words in Spanish.



I desperately wanted to jump into Goat Mountain and love it. But I just couldn’t get more than a couple of chapters into it. The writing style was driving me absolutely crazy. It felt like 90% of the sentences were incomplete, there was no punctuation for dialogue, etc., etc. The story was compelling but wasn’t enough to carry me beyond the writing itself.

Having said that, the writing style is not at all bad – I suppose it just wasn’t for me. The author is talented at painting a picture you can see and feel. The book also had a rawness to it that makes you feel like you’re right there with the characters in the middle of this terrible situation.

In spite of the fact that I didn’t even finish it, I would recommend everyone try to read this book. I feel like my opinion won’t be the norm and I have plans to try to read it again.


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