tale of fraternity hazing that is as hard to put down as an accident is to
look away from. It‘s also an astonishing debut that is filled with power and
passion and pain as it spins a cautionary tale about fraternities and the
tragic consequences that sometimes accompany the need to belong and be
accepted. No wonder other authors like Burroughs, Susan Orlean and Lorenzo
Carceterra (“Sleepers“) are raving.
About to begin his sophomore year of college, Land is a trusting and
slightly naive 20-year-old who is still dealing with the aftereffects of an
assault where two strangers he gave a ride to robbed, beat and kidnapped
him. The local police aren‘t exactly helpful in assisting Land, though his
assailants are later arrested. Through it all, Land tries to move his life
forward and in so doing, leans on his younger, self-centered brother, Brett,
who proves to be about as much of an ally as the cops were. When Brett
leaves for Clemson and joins a fraternity, Kappa Sigma, Brad follows,
believing it will help him start anew.
Early in Goat,“ he recounts what life was like on campus:
“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
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
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.“
Desperate to belong, Land subjects himself to barbaric hazing rituals that
only serve to deepen the humiliation and phobias associated with his
abduction. As a new pledge, or “goat,“ Land accepts the abuse until pushed
to a point where he challenges the frat group‘s mentality and the
sublimation of his own will to violence. It is the death of another goat
after an especially brutal round of hazing that pushes Land away from the
life he has fought to be a part of, and the act is his first real step in
healing and redemption.
In “A Streetcar Named Desire,“ Tennessee Williams wrote that “Deliberate
cruelty is not forgivable,“ and that sentiment rings throughout this book.
The violence is jarring, but never gratuitous, and Land has a fresh, hip,
often funny style that serves to lighten the material when it is very much
in need of it. Like James Frey, he plays with language and grammar (there
are no quotation marks), and while it can sometimes be annoying, it also
doesn‘t diminish the power of this coming-of-age tale. Like Land‘s journey
itself, this is tough-going in parts, but the knowledge gleaned makes it
well worth it, particularly for male readers.