A mugging and a hazing, both ferociously vile, have their victim closing on the edge of sanity in his debut memoir of two abominable years.
The way Land tells it, in clipped and painful sentences, he has always been a bit rickety, jumpy and shaky at even the best of times. These are not the best of times. The story starts when he gives a lift to a couple of strangers, who proceed, in an extended, excruciating assault, to beat him into jelly. Land describes the attack in writing that stutters, turns back on itself, repeats, and then surges forward in erratic strides. He calls his assailants “breath” and “smile,” the only things he remembers about them. His physical recovery is slow, while his emotional recovery stalls; he’s too shaken to follow through on a pre-beating plan to apply with his much-loved younger brother for a transfer from their hometown college to Clemson University, 70 miles away in South Carolina. Brett goes anyway, and when Brad finally makes it to Clemson eight months later, he senses a poison in the air, much of it radiating from his brother’s fraternity. Compelled by forces he doesn’t understand—obligation, tradition, security—he submits to the pledging process, which includes a ritualistic, sadistic hazing that closely reprises his experience with smile and breath, enhanced by toxic levels of alcohol. He finally walks away in a moment of grace so contrary to all that went before that the reader wants to shout as Brad asserts his free will and self-preservation: “I pass from them quietly, and then nothing’s left. No one remembers my name.” Another pledge is not so lucky and dies of a heart attack at age 18. How Land can stand to revisit these miseries with such delirious pungency would be a wonder, except that his sense of relief at having survived them is palpable.
Fine, grim work.