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Goat, a hard-hitting memoir

Taylor Clary | Thursday, March 4, 2004

Considering the recent overwhelming popularity of memoirs in literature, the memoir of a twenty-something male coming to terms with his identity would seem, at first glance, to have already been done. It would be easy to disregard Brad Land’s major writing debut, GOAT, as simply another example of a novice author self-consciously writing his own story. However, Land offers much more than a carbon copy of what has recently been showing up on bookshelves. In just 208 pages, his gritty and frank narrative style, brutal honesty and ability to capture his own quirky and, at times, unstable personality provide a refreshing alternative to the often arrogant tone of other memoirs. Land’s story is dark and his subject matter often gruesome and violent, but he manages to make it entirely readable. His story spans two years. In the first, Land is robbed, beaten and abducted by two men to whom he gives a ride when leaving a party. In the second, he follows his younger brother, Brett, to Clemson University in South Carolina, 70 miles from his home. He pledges his brother’s fraternity, Kappa Sigma. Land finds the pledging process barbaric and the hazing techniques physically and emotionally traumatic, especially after his abduction the previous year. Throughout his story, Land is plagued by feelings of isolation and paranoia as he searches for his own voice and tries to understand his place in society. Land skillfully weaves his accounts of these two brutal events into a tale that is shocking and disturbing, yet insightful and oddly enjoyable. In the first chapter the author immediately dives into the details of his abduction, explicitly describing his near-fatal beating. Although he provides graphic descriptions of his physical injuries, it is the incident’s emotional repercussions that plague him and are the topic of the rest of his story. The memory of his assailants still haunts him as he heads to Clemson. During the pledging process, Land and his fellow pledges, ‘goats’ as they are called, are subjected to hazing rituals that include physical beatings and binge drinking. Ironically, these practices of “fraternal brotherhood” alienate Land from his actual brother, and he is overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing and displacement.Along the way, Land chain smokes to ease his nerves, keeps a tally of the growing contents of his pockets, and falls in love with every girl he meets, fantasizing that each one will save him from the fraternity and himself. His methods of coping with the pressures of pledging a fraternity are not enough to dispel his nagging conscience that repeatedly tells him he doesn’t belong. As a result of his own self-doubt and desire to be “normal” Land subjects himself to the brutality of the pledging process far longer than he should, and walks away with a bleak but less burdened future. Despite the plaguing unhappiness he felt as a “goat” he still admits, “I’m also terrified of what I will be without the fraternity, that I will be nothing, that I am already nothing.” As a writer, Land is able to gracefully walk the line between honestly telling the terror of his experiences and appearing to ask for pity from the reader. He never entirely blames the fraternity members for his problems or even their own actions, recognizing that they are also victims of the same traditions and systems. Furthermore, he realizes the role his own unstable emotional state played in creating his situation. Land, now 27 years old, has just enough distance from these two years to provide insight but still remain close enough to his emotions at the time to write this memoir in a believable stream of consciousness.GOAT provides a glimpse directly into the author’s mind. He often fumbles with words and their ability to articulate his emotional state, but seems to find that the truth of raw emotions is best expressed through simplicity. It is this frank, honest writing style that makes GOAT so enjoyable and makes Land an author worth looking for in the future. Land never gives the impression that he is glossing over details or trying to portray himself as the innocent victim. He writes unselfconsciously of his own faults and the role he plays in his own unhappiness, making his accounts of others more believable. Land’s memoir begins, “This is how it goes…” and at its close, it feels as if he has told it exactly how it went.