Goat: A Memoir

by Brad Land

(Random House)

The first 27 pages of Brad Land's memoir grabs you by the scruff of your neck and proceeds to slam you into a state of near total obedience. Here's a writer with a voice that's at once breathless and controlled with a natural ability to combine suspense with inner monologue.

Goat begins when Land leaves a party in his South Carolina college town where his younger brother Brett is faring well with some drunk girls. Land isn't. Brett's the good-looking one for whom things seem to come so easy; Brad's the pensive creative type. Both envy the other.

Getting into his mom's car, Land is asked for a ride from two strange men. Despite his better judgment, he agrees. They direct him to a secluded location, beat him mercilessly and drive away. Land is left in a bloody pulp on the side of the road. One gets the sense he's never entirely recovered.

Unfortunately, Land's chilling opener is never redeemed in the remaining pages, most of which concern his brief tenure as a "goat"; the pejorative for pledges of Clemson University's chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Land seeks the closeness and the approval of his younger bro, who pledged a year before. However, his so-called Kappa brothers are the apotheosis of boilerplate fratboys: arrogant, hedonistic, and downright haze happy.

Land has garnered much praise for a willingness to explore violence from a vulnerable male perspective. However, his parallel between a violent abduction, and the violence resulting from fraternity mob mentality falls flat. A brutal attack commands our sympathy, as does the emotional interplay between brothers. But rendering a voluntary fraternity pledge with the solemnity typically reserved for Holocaust memoirs is hard to stomach.

Land also uses threadbare staccato sentences in the style of Chuck Palahniuk. At first this cut-to-the-chase prose facilitates a sense of urgency, but it eventually starts to reek of laziness. Is crafting a traditional sentence really such a burden?

Goat is a brave book and an original one. It contains immediacy, a boatload of talent and absolutely no levity or perspective. Anti-Greek undergrads, however, may wish to adopt it as their new manifesto. JOHN DICKER