A searing memoir of masculinity, violence, and brotherhood, Goat provides an unprecedented window into the emotional landscape of young men and introduces a writer of uncommon grace and power.
|Publisher:||Recorded Books, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||4.16(w) x 6.98(h) x 1.12(d)|
About the Author
Brad Land studied creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he received his M.F.A., and Western Michigan University, where he served as nonfiction editor of Third Coast. He has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and now lives in South Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
This is how it goes:
We’re getting floored at a beginning-of-the-semester party. Me, my younger brother Brett, these three people we came with. At this old fraternity house. Two stories with a big front porch and a backyard with a chain-link fence.
Brett’s on the porch standing next to me. People moving all over the place. Like cells. Everything pulsing. All sweat and smoke. The house is breathing.
These two girls come up. Just stand there looking us over. One of the girls looks at Brett like she loves him already. She’s short and has long hair pulled into a ponytail. Legs all muscled like a soccer player’s. She’s wearing a Zeppelin T-shirt with a hole beneath the neck cuff. The other girl’s standing beside her all bucktoothed and shaky. Got a tattoo on her left shoulder blade. Something swirled and tribal. Her arms crossed. I give her a smoke and she nods, cups one hand around the lighter I hold out and I can tell she’s drunk by the way her eyes wobble, the way she squints them against the porch lights. The other girl rubs the shaky one’s back, runs her hand down and pauses in the bare patch of skin between her jeans and top. The shaky girl looks her over and smiles. Brett tells them to kiss. They look at each other and laugh and then the shaky girl moves toward the other one, puts a hand around her waist and holds the cigarette out to the side. Her tongue’s out and inside the other’s mouth and they lock together, wet cheeks pulsing with the overhead light. The shaky one steps back and pulls on the smoke, exhales and looks at Brett. I’m staring at the two girls and the shaky girl asks if that was okay, and Brett says yeah that was cool, and I nod, say yeah good, and then Brett says do it again and they just laugh. The short girl says you don’t even know us and Brett says so and cocks back his beer. When he brings it down, she takes the beer from Brett and drinks. Hands it back. And now the shaky girl looks at me like she knows something about me with my skinny arms and black hair all matted from the hot air outside. Brett’s talking to the short girl and I don’t know what to say with this shaky one staring at me. The short one leans, whispers in her friend’s ear. They turn and walk away.
Brett tells me they want us to come over later.
I nod like it’s standard.
School’s two days away, and for both Brett and me, it’s the whole college-in-the-same-town-you-went-to-high-school-in thing. It’ll be my second year, Brett’s first, and right now I’m not too happy with this small liberal arts school because it’s backward and I went to high school with most everyone there, but for right now, just right now, it’s okay because my brother’s here.
I couldn’t hack school last year at another college because I was lonely and I failed most everything. I tell everyone it was from the drugs or the alcohol but the truth is I was just lonely and cried all the time and lived in an old house with lots of dust.
This is what they say:
Didn’t like it there man? That place is fucking cool, fucking badass town man, why’d you leave man, I mean why’d you come back here?
This is what I say:
Too much, just too much.
And then they say this:
Yeah man I understand that I mean that town does it to the best of them man, gets everybody all fucked up with all that shit they got there, there’s so much shit there man, you know I understand that shit really.
And Brett gave up a soccer scholarship upstate. He didn’t want to do the summer workout and couldn’t make up his mind about anything, and it’s lame to be here and we know it, but it’s cool and livable for a little while because just a few minutes ago Brett and I decided to leave here next semester. We got the idea a few days ago when we helped a friend move in at Clemson where everything’s huge and it’s where my grandfather went and where my dad went and after we decided Brett said fuck yeah and I said yeah fuck man.
Both of us.
So this party in August is the beginning of the end of our time here.
We leave after Christmas.
This party is just a party with people from all over the town, which is not really a college town even though we have a college. Brett and I aren’t in a fraternity but it doesn’t matter even though it’s a frat party because if there’s a party, any party, anyone who sees it, or knows about it, or hears about it comes, because the town’s small and there’s not much else to do.
The town’s named Florence and it’s this crumbling place in South Carolina with steel mills and railroad tracks. There’s a country club made up of all the old families and the new ones who have money. And even though Brett and I have lived here for three years we don’t come from here and our dad’s a preacher but he’s strange (not like hellfire crazy strange, or standing on a sidewalk holding a Bible up in the air strange, but just strange, like once he melted down the gold caps from his teeth and made them into a cross) and he doesn’t have enough money to be in the club and neither does my mother (she’s a school nurse and when we get sick she’s always the one who tells us we’ll be better soon, tells us what pills to eat) but occasionally we get invited to their parties because we know the sons and the daughters, and it’s always us just standing there with our cigarettes and the free booze, but we know we aren’t like them and we couldn’t marry one of the daughters because we don’t come from where their future husbands are supposed to.
Brett’s only thirteen months younger than me but bigger and everyone we meet thinks he’s older and I have to say nah it’s me thirteen months and two days.
Point at my chest.
That’s how it always goes. Me measuring up to my brother. He’s good-looking and all the girls swoon when they see him. Six-one. Dark skin. Brown hair. Broad shoulders. This chiseled face. My mom and dad say I’m good-looking but it’s not the same as when a girl says it.
For example: My brother and me in our grandparents’ driveway playing basketball. I am fifteen. He is fourteen. I am tall for my age, the only growth spurt I really ever have, full of acne, awkward, he is shorter and still has that boy look to him. My first cousin (two years younger, a girl) comes over with one of her friends. They stand there and look us over, hands on their hips. My cousin looks over at her friend, says what do you think about Brett, like she’s trying to set her friend up and the friend says oh he’s fine. Gnaws her fingernail. My cousin asks about me. Weird, the friend says, he’s weird. Looks at the ground.
There you go.
And it isn’t just the looks. It’s everything. Brett is athletic. He makes all-state in soccer junior and senior years. I quit soccer when I am twelve. I quit tennis when I am fourteen. I am good at neither. But mostly it’s just the air about him. Like he can have anything he wants. He just needs to point.
Me seventeen. Him sixteen. Me drunk and standing by a fire. Arms crossed. Brett inside the tent, the door zipped. The tent shifting. I’m facing this girl Kathleen across the fire, her face lit orange, and we don’t know what to say to each other. Breath fogged. Brett’s head from the tent door. Then he’s standing. Kathleen’s cousin Alice leaving the tent after Brett. Brett smoking. Alice shaking. Both back inside the tent. And I keep shaking, looking over at Kathleen with the words stuck. She tells me I’m boring. I tell her I know. I sleep in the dirt beside the fire. Kathleen goes in the tent with Brett and Alice.
But I know that Brett feels sort of the same way about me. Like he wants the things I’ve got. He thinks I am creative. I can play guitar and he wants to be able to do that. I start playing guitar after I quit the violin, then the piano, then the trumpet. And he thinks I’m smart. But I’m always thinking fuck smart and creative. I just feel weird. With Brett and me it’s like this dual-adoration thing but the truth is I’d give all the stuff he wants for all the stuff I want in a heartbeat.
Reading Group Guide
1. Goat is a memoir teeming with violence. Did you find yourself more shocked by the random violence in the book than by other, sanctioned types of violence? If so, why?
2. Throughout Land’s memoir, many characters grapple with the difficulty of fitting in with their peers. What sorts of pressures do you feel are placed on young men and women? Where does this stress come from? What could be done to combat it?
3. In your opinion, is the Greek system in the United States a viable outlet for young men and women? Given the long, public history of hazing and abuses committed by some fraternities and sororities, do you feel the Greek system should be abolished? If not, how could conditions be improved?
4. The narrator is involved in different kinds of violence: violence is committed against him and he participates, in some ways, in violence toward others. Identify some places in the text where the author falls into that violence himself, where he becomes part of it.
5. Is Land’s character sympathetic in his passivity, and in the detached way he sees the world? Or does this passivity make him less sympathetic?
6. In your opinion, is Land making a claim about the nature of the relationship between different forms of violence in society, like that of violent crimes and fraternity hazing? Or is he simply telling a story and allowing the reader to formulate his or her own opinion about this relationship? If so, what is the relationship?
7. Brad’s relationship with his younger brother, Brett, is integral to the narrative. What is it about their relationship the author find so compelling, so powerful, that he constantly moves toward him and seeks his approval in one way or another? Could Brett have done anything differently to protect Brad from his own self-destruction? What could Brad have done differently to change what happened to him? What is your reaction to the close, almost suffocating nature of the sibling relationship between Brad and Brett?
8. Goat is greatly concerned with guilt and forgiveness. In what ways do the violent acts committed against the narrator cause one to think about forgiveness? In what way does Brett’s guilt and his apparent inability to deal with the things that happen to Brad cause him to feel unable to ask for forgiveness?
9. There are many scenes in the book in which Brad is participating in an act of hazing or some fraternity ritual and Brett is off to the sides, in a corner, unable to watch or participate. How does this apparent refusal to help, to give recognition, implicate Brett ethically? Furthermore, how does this affect our beliefs about third parties and forgiveness? Are third parties who choose not to intervene when violence is taking place implicated in those violent acts, and, if so, to what extent?
10. Considering the guilt felt by Brett for not being present at his brother’s time of need, how is the relationship between Brad and Brett mirrored by Brad’s relationship with Will Fitch? What is it about this relationship that is so compelling, and how does it compel Brad to recollect about his relationship with his brother?
11. How is this memoir different in form, structure, and tone, from other memoirs you’ve read? Which styles do you feel are more compelling than others?
12. Realizing the inherent difficulty of writing a memoir of this sort, do you consider the voice Land cultivates authentic? In order to remain completely honest with regard to the narrative, the author of any memoir must tell the story as it unfolded — but in doing so, the author always runs the risk of sounding too vulnerable or emotionally inhibited. Given the inherent difficulty of exposing oneself in a radical way, do you think Land was successful?
13. Authors of memoirs portray other people’s actions from their own perspective, often without asking their permission. Does this compromise the author ethically?
14. Early in the book Land has a conversation with a fox. How can one really have a conversation with a fox? What does the inclusion of a scene in a memoir that is at first glace presumably untrue imply about the nature of truth-telling?
15. Is there such a thing as an objective claim about the past? How would any author really retrieve the past as it happened, without having to rely solely on memory? If an author uses interviews, for example, does the presence of a tape recorder or microphone, or the very recognition of the fact that the author is listening intently, always compromise the objectivity of what interviewees have to say? Is complete objectivity even possible?
A TALK WITH BRAD LAND
To you, what is GOAT really about? Is it an indictment of the fraternity system? Or is it a story of survival? Or is it a look at the way young men come of age?
I suppose GOAT is about all of those things and each aspect is somewhat interesting to me. But GOAT is a story, first and foremost, one I tried to tell in a true and different way. I never set out to write a polemic, but I do hope people might read it and think a little more about the ways we hurt each other. Violence, in any form, is something each of us deals with-sanctioned, random, public, personal–they're all expressions of the same base thing.
What is it about the need to belong that makes people go to such extremes to be a part of something?
I think there's a great deal of pressure to belong, to feel that you are doing the right thing with your life, in your own eyes, in the eyes of your parents and the people in your town. Go to college, be well adjusted, get a job, sell something, make money, join the country club. I knew lots of people who thought about which sorority or fraternity they'd join while they were still in high school. It''s a dangerous sort of pressure, I think, and it doesn't just come from friends; it's teachers, parents, neighbors.
How do you feel now about Clemson and the members of that fraternity?
Clemson occupies an important place for me. My father went there. His father went there. I still love going to football games there, the pageantry of it all, the excitement. That's never really changed for me. It excited me as a child and a young man. It excites me now.
I don't really feel goodor bad about members of the fraternity. I don't know any of them any more on any significant level. Maybe they'll read the book and connect with it.
Have recent hazing stories in the press affected you?
They always affect me. Hazing is about humiliation and power, someone being in a position to degrade someone else, and any time that happens, any way humiliation is expressed, it's damaging, and one of the cruelest ways we interact.
Have the events in GOAT shaped your relationship with your brother, Brett, and with the rest of your family?
Very much so. It's colored everything since it happened. But my family is, and always has been, my center. Brett and I have always been close, and what happened made us understand one another better, it helped us know the other in a way we hadn't before. I've had people read the book and ask me questions like "why did Brett do that do you?" But I never felt the book presented that sort of relationship; it feels to me, rather, that we did things to each other, good and bad. Brett and I both went through those things, but we experienced them in different ways. We both made the choices we felt we had to make.
How have the events depicted in GOAT affected you in the intervening years? How have they affected your writing?
I've always been a generally nervous person. What happened heightened that tendency. It's something I deal with every day, really, but I'm at a pretty good place with what happened now.
As far as the writing goes, I tried to fictionalize the events in the first part of the book but it always felt false, like I didn't have the perspective to write about it in any way at all. And a few years after that, during a summer when I was living in Charleston, I just started writing the second half of the book. I'd spent a year in graduate school writing a little bit and reading all the memoirs I could get my hands on. Now it seems like what I was doing was preparation, figuring out where the story fit and how to tell it.
Was writing GOAT cathartic for you?
The word cathartic has always been attached to memoir, I think, because of its personal nature, but really, all writing, any act of creation, for me, would have that side. But it's a part of the process, not something I think writing is really about.
I don't think art is about solving one's own psychology-if that happens along the way, good-but I've never approached writing with catharsis at my primary concern. That's self-help, not art.
The memoir is just a form, and like other forms, it carries certain constraints and expectations. My goal was always to make a book that does something different with form, with language, with tone. A book that makes people rethink those expectations and constraints.
Clearly, readers are reacting as much to the writing as to the story.
Yes, the story is something people respond to. It's hard and scary. But so far people have commented equally on the voice, the way the story is told. As a writer, that's what I hope people latch onto-the language, the style, the experimentation. But I'm not a fan of experimentation simply for its own sake, to be cool or new. I think successful experimental writing comes from knowing the rules, knowing the body of nonfiction, knowing how other writers (poets, writers of fiction and nonfiction) have done things, and why, reading everything and anything with a critical eye, and always bringing those things to the craft of writing.
What are you working on now?
Right now I'm working on a few things–some essay-type things. I don't really know what to call them, these short nonfiction prose pieces. Maybe call it experimental journalism. I'm also working on a novel that has punk rock bands in it. And pop songs. The state of Colorado is also in the book, which I like, because I think Colorado is a good state. There's an airplane. And cars. A commune. Lots of trees and snow.