The first 27 pages of Brad Land's memoir grabs you by the scruff of your neck and proceeds to slam you into a state of near-total obedience. Here's a writer with a voice that's at once breathless and controlled with a natural ability to combine suspense with inner monologue.
Goat begins when Land leaves a party in his South Carolina college town where his younger brother Brett is faring well with some drunken girls. Land isn't. Brett's the good-looking one for whom things seem to come so easy; Brad's the pensive, creative type. Each envies the other.
Getting into his mom's car, Land is asked for a ride by two strange men. Despite his better judgment, he agrees. They direct him to a secluded location, beat him mercilessly and drive away. Land is left a bloody pulp on the side of the road. You get the sense he's never entirely recovered.
Unfortunately, Land's chilling opener is never redeemed in the remaining pages, most of which concern his brief tenure as a goat: the pejorative for pledges of Clemson University's chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Brad seeks the closeness and the approval of his younger bro, who pledged the year before. However, his so-called Kappa brothers are the apotheosis of boilerplate frat boys: arrogant, hedonistic and downright haze-happy.
Land has garnered much praise for a willingness to explore violence from a male perspective, of laying bare so much vulnerability. However, his parallel between a violent abduction and the violence resulting from fraternity group-think is less than apparent.
Halfway through Goat, Land's portentousness becomes cloying, then cumbersome, then flat-out unbearable. A brutal attack commands our sympathy, as does the emotional interplay between brothers. But rendering a voluntary fraternity pledge with the solemnity typically reserved for Holocaust memoirs is hard to stomach. Goat is a brave book and an original one. It contains immediacy, a boatload of talent and absolutely no levity or perspective. Anti-Greek undergrads may wish to adopt it as their new manifesto.
Publication date: 03/17/04