Monday, February 14, 2011

On Brad Land's 'Goat'

I picked up a few books at the library Saturday. Two cookbooks and two non-fiction books, Goat by Brad Land and The Well Dressed Ape. I read all of Goat in roughly three and a half to four hours.

It's a quick read, written by someone who doesn't really seem to be a trained writer (although Land has a master's in Creative Writing) when he's telling the story.

The chapters are more like conversations you have with someone, where you sit and listen, at first with morbid interest and sympathy and eventually with outright concern and occasionally horror to the story of their life unraveling.

The book starts with Land being the victim of a kidnapping, carjacking, and vicious assault. How "the incident" (as it is referred to by awkwardly well-meant friends and family, unable to really deal with what occurred) affects Brad is obvious in a few ways; he both pulls away from and desperately clings to his close relationship with his brother Brett, follows Brett to Clemson University, and begins to pledge the same fraternity Brett is in.

Like I said, the book is a super fast read. It's also disturbing.

Fraternities and sororities have worked hard on the surface and often all the way through their many ranks to do away with 'hazing', the isolating psychological mess forced onto prospective members to make them prove just how much they want to be there.

Brad attends Clemson when this hazing, according to his fraternity's handbook, doesn't exist.

It does, however, and the relationship between his assault and many of the things he goes through during the hazing process will make you shift, uncomfortable, wondering at the ways people can be absolutely vicious to each other, then go out for drinks and a cigarette like nothing happened the next day.

Brad's story isn't really a happy one, but the absolutely natural tone of his writing is really impressive. I couldn't stop reading the book, even as life went on around me. I kept waiting for Brad to throw his things down and quit in a rage, or for Brett, his brother, to realize the damage the hazing process was doing to someone he loves and to he himself. Whether or not that occurs, well, you'll have to read the book.

I know I don't really do book reviews, but I really really liked this book, and I wanted to talk a little bit about it. I'm a big non-fiction reader, and I know some people who can't stand it because they feel non-fiction is invariably 'dry'. I can tell you, this book does not read like non-fiction, like a memoir counting off events and their significance. This book reads like a conversation, a rambling drunk-chat in a bar just before last call, when you realize halfway through that the person you're talking to may simply be unable to stop, at least until they pass out face-first in a bowl of peanuts.

It's a small book, but it sticks with you. It's not exactly something you give to a high school graduate as they're going off to college... or maybe it is, if you're the kind of person trying to scare some sobriety into the high school graduates you know. The matter-of-fact descriptions of parties and the ever-present alcohol and expectation that one be drunk, hung over, or preparing to drink as opposed to having anything to do with actual schoolwork or classes were familiar reminders of so many people I knew at SIUC when I attended that school.

Like I've said... I really liked the book, but it's definitely one to read and then sort of turn over in your mind. Land takes a pretty hard look at his own life, and is really honest about what those years were for him and for those he knew.


I'd say 4/5, if I had a 1-through-5 rating system.

Which I suppose I do, now.


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