Vann’s third novel is his most visceral yet: a grinding examination of killing, God and the unnamable forces that create a dynasty of violence.
An 11-year-old boy, his father, grandfather, and his father’s best friend, Tom, make the trip to Goat Mountain, a vast family ranch, for their annual deer hunt. When they arrive, in the distance they see an orange-vested hunter sitting on a rock, a poacher on their land. The father spies on the stranger through the scope of his gun. He calls his son over to have a look. When the boy sights the poacher through the cross hairs, he pulls the trigger and shoots. The man is obviously dead—a giant hole through him—and now nothing will be the same. The boy, now a man, narrates this story in a staccato of images, as if remembrance is impossible when accessing the mind of a child, and says “[s]ome part of me was not right, and the source of that can never be discovered.” The men call him a monster, but what can be done? The father throws the body into the back of the pickup, drives to their campsite and strings the man up as they do deer, year after year. The boy is so remorseless, he seems an innocent, and the grandfather wants him murdered (even tries to kill him one night). Tom wants to head back and tell the police, but the father doesn’t know what to do, and so, in his moral inertia, he continues the hunting trip, making meals, flushing out game, sleeping at night, all as the dead man hangs and festers. The narrator meditates on the Bible and its glorification of violence, of our inescapable murderous legacy, and that “[t]he act of killing might even be the act that creates god.” Nothing that begins so badly can end well, yet there is also something comforting in the inevitable; when a gun is loaded, the bullet yearns for a home.
This book is as all of Vann’s fiction: provocative and unforgiving.