Book Review: Goat Mountain by David Vann

Goat Mountain by David VannA new book by David Vann! After reading Legend of a SuicideCaribou Island, and Dirt, another novel by one of my favorite authors! Or… ex-favorite authors. Possibly. You see, I didn’t finish Goat Mountain. I knew Vann’s books are dark, with suffering and/or death. With people that don’t think straight, have something wrong with them. In this case, it was too much. Too much!

Goat Mountain: What it is about

The publisher says: “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.

Goat Mountain: What I thought

This is an exploration of what happens to three generations of a family when the youngest kills a person by accident. There is a fourth person, Tom, who is a friend of the family. He observes the situation without being influenced by family relations and so, acts as a kind of conscience for the group of men.

As always, the writing is very good, if a little over the top with sentences without verbs. Vann uses them a lot in his other books, too, but here it bothered me sometimes. What I mean is sentences like this:

My father moving fast. I struggled to keep up. The slope gentle, but rocks everywhere.

Only the second of these short sentences is a “proper” one. This way of writing gives an almost sensory feel: things are not normally observed in whole sentences, people see, hear, experience bits of information. That is a beautiful way of getting the reader to feel part of the landscape and the story, but the amount of it started to bother me. It didn’t feel natural after a while.

What I did like, as always, is the description of nature, nature being bigger and powerful than man.

The story is too drawn out to me, nothing much happens. This probably is fitting for this kind of novel, but it was too slow for my enjoyment. The eleven year old boy, from whose perspective we read the story, observes his grandfather’s and father’s reactions to the accident and further actions towards him (the boy). They try, but have great trouble, to deal with the situation at hand, and to find a way to deal with it in the long run.

There are a lot of outright biblical references which were sometimes quite astute but I soon bored of them. There was little subtlety in the comparison between the boy and certain biblical characters.

I haven’t even mentioned the moving around of human and non-human bodies, and the extensive description of slaughtering an animal and the smell of dead bodies. The flies.

Both on the philosophical/psychological level and the physical descriptions of the book, it was all rather too much for me. This story was too indulgent, too much wallowing, too personal, and maybe even too realistic. I read about 170 pages and then I really had enough of it.

Rating: DNF (Did Not Finish)

Number of pages: 256 (I read 170)

First published: 2013

I got this: from Harper for review

Genre: contemporary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

19 Responses to Book Review: Goat Mountain by David Vann

  1. I loved Legend of a Suicide for the cleverness of the plot, but I haven’t been that impressed by his other books. If someone persuades me that this is really clever then I might give it a go, but I worry he just likes writing really dark stuff and I like my darker reads to have a purpose.

  2. Sounds like a definite “pass” for me, as I hate goriness in my reading. But thanks for your honest review — I’m sure it will help people make a decision about whether or not this is the book for them!

  3. harvee says:

    I am curious about the book now and wonder how far I will get before I abandon it or if I’ll finish it!

  4. oh no…I love his dark writing and have read (2) previous books, but this might be a bit much. I do plan to try it.

  5. JoV says:

    I reviewed this a few days ago.

    I don’t think I will read any of his book. There may be a purpose of him writing a dark subject but I don’t buy the violence and the justification of it. I am with you on not finishing it.

  6. Nadine Nys says:

    Sorry to read you probably “lost” a favorite author, Judith. I think I will pass this one too.
    Great review, however, you really know how to write well balanced comments.

  7. Sad you didn’t like it. Maybe you should try another book of this author? I really like dark stories, so I’m definitely going to take a look at the other books you’ve mentioned.

  8. Trish says:

    I have to admit that I’m curious about this one but after reading your thoughts I think I may skip it. The bodies and flies and slaughter? Yuck. I’m wondering how I haven’t heard of this author before!

  9. Leslie says:

    I new this would be dark but I was hoping it wouldn’t be so graphic. Ah well, I have a copy and will give it try for the nature parts if nothing else and see if I can get through it. Although if I bail out on a book I usually give up sooner than you did.

  10. Pingback: Book Review: A Mile Down by David Vann | Leeswammes' Blog

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