In Goat Mountain, an unnamed 11-year-old boy protagonist goes to family-owned land in Northern California with his grandfather, father and a family friend. The men in the family have gone on their annual deer hunt for generations and the boy can't remember a time he didn't go along, didn't desire to kill his own buck. This year, although he's not yet the legal age, he will be allowed to shoot. But, then something goes terribly wrong when a poacher is spotted on their land and the boy's father hands his gun to the boy.
This may or may not be a spoiler because it happens very early in the book (highlight to read white text):
When the boy gets his hands on the rifle and sees the poacher through the scope, he watches the man turn toward the gun and then pulls the trigger. He's not sure why; he just desires to kill.
After the Terrible Thing happens, the men have to decide what to do. They are not in agreement but one bad decision is followed by a questionable choice and a series of increasingly violent acts and terrible decisions. In Goat Mountain, David Vann explores the potential for choosing the darkness inside us, allowing our baser instincts to take over, leading characters into their own form of personal hell.
I made it about halfway through Goat Mountain before I stalled. Tolerance for violent images is very much an individual thing and I'm a person who tends to prefer sweetness and light. If you're okay with violence and you like a book in which characters must confront their darker side (and I do mean evil darkness), go for it. Goat Mountain was way too dark and violent for my taste. But, I was in the mood for something very different from my usual fare and kept going for a while in spite of being repelled by the characters' choices.
Vann's writing style is also odd and fractured, a combination of full sentences and fragments that feels very much a "break all the rules" style. I can appreciate his writing from a stylistic standpoint for its uniqueness but that doesn't mean I liked it. Goat Mountain's premise reminds me of A Simple Plan by Scott Smith -- the kind of book in which someone does something very, very bad and then he and his companions continue making terrible choices, piling one evil on top of another. After all these years, A Simple Plan still haunts me (I avoided the movie) so when I found my interest in what was going to happen in Goat Mountain waning, I flipped ahead to the end of the book and read the ending. I didn't like it, so I set the book aside.