Goat: A Memoir
By Brad Land
(Random House: New York) $22.95/hardcover
Anyone asking whether we really need another memoir should read Brad Land's Goat, a riveting account of the author's assault and abduction by two thugs, an event that changed his life at age 19, and his second exposure to violence at the hands of his college fraternity brothers.
Land submerges his adult identity and perspective, painstakingly re-creating the inner conflicts of a young man who thinks he's not tough enough or cool enough, whose closest friend is his brother, who is desperate not to be left behind or alone.
Goat is spare and taut, written in the tough language of boys, filled with beers and cigarettes and bongs and sexual exploits, dreamed and real. The lasting trauma of the initial assault is not hypothesized or analyzed; it is starkly apparent in the thought process of young Brad. When he decides to pledge his brother's fraternity at Clemson University and faces violent hazing, he has no power to stop himself or to protest. He hangs in, the manly thing to do, while his soul is quietly crushed for a second time.
There have been a few great memoirs in the throng that have been published since creative nonfiction became a hot genre. Mary Karr's The Liar's Club is one. Land's Goat stands ready to take its place next to that harrowing tale. It is notable for Land's impeccable prose, for his verbal and emotional integrity, and for speaking to a rare subject -- the hearts and minds of tough young guys -- rough on the outside but tender at the core.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
The Amateur Marriage
By Anne Tyler
(Random House: New York) $24.95/hardcover
Prolific novelist of domestic affairs Anne Tyler gives us her 16th novel, revisiting Baltimore neighborhoods and the territory of marriage, this time covering a 30-year time span and the growth, disillusion and eventual dismemberment of the Anton family.
At the helm is Michael, steady, deliberate and cautious, concerned with the future and with his family responsibility. The book opens during World War II, with Michael clerking at his mother's Polish neighborhood grocery store. Here comes Pauline, fresh, frivolous and romantic, concerned only with the prospect of finding a husband. She snares Michael; he enlists in the Army is shipped out and returned home in short order with an embarrassing training injury. Together, they begin making a home and a family.
Skip ahead to the fashionable suburb where Pauline has convinced Michael to live, where she tends their three children while he grows the business. This is the strongest section of the book, Tyler at her best describing the quarrels, the high and low dramas of married life. One scene in particular, where Pauline nurses an attraction for a recently divorced neighbor, burns with the sad intrigue of all that lies outside of marriage, from a frustrated insider's perspective.
Amateur Marriage goes farther than any of Tyler's previous books into the real lives of characters not defined by their quirks and charming eccentricities, but by their ordinariness. The only false step lies in her depiction of daughter Karen, a rebel who wants to be Castro at Halloween and eventually runs away to Haight-Ashbury where she bears an illegitimate child destined to be raised by her parents.
There is much to enjoy here -- a strong sense of the wages of the passing of time, the numbing nuances of everyday life, a vivid depiction of the loneliness adults feel even when constantly surrounded by others. Tyler loves her characters and so do we, in spite of their flaws, or perhaps, because of them.
-- Kathryn Eastburn