David Vann’s dark and grisly Goat Mountain detonates right off the bat. A grandfather, father, young son and friend arrive on family land for their annual hunting trip. Immediately spotting a poacher, the father offers the 11-year-old son a closer look at the interloper through his rifle scope.

The boy pulls the trigger.

So falls this group into hell, and Vann, in strikingly beautiful, brutal prose, plunges us into a world where all that might have been right is wrong--where light is dark; up is down. Ever fascinated with the physical and emotional violence in dysfunctional families, Vann returns to this theme, exploring the fallout of such a shocking act. The three men react to the boy’s deed in different, ugly, ways, and the boy’s subsequent isolation is both heartrending and terrifying—an appalling vertigo.

Vann specializes in portraying terrible change—how all can go awry in a blink, the unthinkable come to seem inevitable—but he doesn’t just glance where we don’t want to look; he stares till it becomes unbearable. It’s nearly unendurable to watch this boy cope without guidance, his father flounder in his impossible situation. Goat Mountain may lack its predecessor Dirt’s flawlessly intense momentum, but it grips, its language and fiercely vivid imagery making the heart wince as the hunting party’s weekend goes from horrifying to somehow much, much worse. A mere 200+ pages, it does what many novels never accomplish in hundreds more: create a pulsing, panting world in which every thought feels like life or death.

Since his 2008 debut, Vann has been compared to the likes of Melville, Hemingway, Faulkner and McCarthy—sometimes coming out ahead. It’s not hype. Easily one of the most exciting writers of the past decade, Vann keeps proving with each addition to his small but stunning oeuvre that he is not a fluke. Goat Mountain wrestles with no less than God, morality, the very origin of man and his nature. It comes out alive. Ambitious and potent, both Vann and Goat Mountain amaze.

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