Audiobook Review: Goats by Mark Jude Poirier

23 07 2012

Goats By Mark Jude Poirier

Read by Ray Porter

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Literary Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Poirier’s character study is full of dark humor and over the top characters but manages to humanize them all enough to make the story work. Goats is definitely a step away from my traditional plot driven genre reads, but its highly enjoyable entertaining situations, offbeat characters and strong lead make it worth the trek.

Grade: B+

I know this may come as a big surprise to many people, but marijuana hasn’t really played a significant role in my life. Most of my experience with drug culture hasn’t come from direct experimentation on my part. The strange thing is, despite not being someone who explored mind altering substances, I tended to be drawn to people who did. While I was never really in any of the major "cliques" in high school, the people I tended to hang out with at school where, I guess what you would call stoners. Some of my favorite people in the world own lava lamps, enjoy Phish concerts and tended to spend a lot of time talking about nonconformity. I’m not saying these people would partake, but, well, it would be easy to make assumptions about them based on outward modes of expression. Yet, maybe despite the fact that I love these people, I never really was drawn to the traditional stoner entertainment. In all honesty, I found Phish and even The Grateful Dead to be sort of boring. I’ve read Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac, but I don’t find their work to be particularly life changing. I’ll laugh at stoner comedies, like Friday or Dazed and Confused, but it’s more of a laughing at the idiocy of the characters then relating with them. I have to admit, I sort of choose Goats by Mark Jude Poirier on a whim. In fact, I choose it more because I was amused that the main character was called "Goat Man" then because it was about an unlikely relationship between a young boy and an immature middle aged man who bonds over a mutual appreciation of the herb. I guess you can say I was more drawn to the characters then the actual use of marijuana in the story. The more things change…

Goats is a touching coming of age story about older than his years 14 year old Ellis, and how the change of him moving away from his irresponsible trust fund mother, and immature pot smoking mentor, to an upper crust boarding school changes the relationships between them all. Poirier uses a common archetypal character, the overly mature responsible, highly intelligent young adult and thrusts him into an untraditional story full of manipulative and immature characters. Ellis, in many ways, is baggage to all of the adult in his life. To his mother Wendy, he is her calming force and a steadying influence, yet, he is also a game piece that she uses to strike at her ex-husband. For Goat Man, a roustabout handy man who lives in Ellis’s mother’s pool room and trains goats for cross dessert treks, he is a surrogate son, yet one he uses to justify the shortcomings in his life. And for Ellis father, called "Fucker Frank" Ellis is evidence of his poor choices and failures, whose guilt causes him to reach out to, yet only as long as he fits into his comfortable world. All of the adults are, if not comfortable, accepting of Ellis to some level, as long as he stays true to their perspectives of him, but as he begins to change and grow, it strains all the relationships in strange new ways. While much of the book centers on drug use, the true story is about a young boy trying to break away from his broken family. Anyone who grew up in a nontraditional home easily recognizes the struggles that Ellis must deal with. I may not get his desire to escape into the haze of a drug induced stupor, but I totally understood his conflicting feelings as he was being used like a pawn by those meant to protect him, then blaming him when he doesn’t conform to their whims. Probably my favorite aspect of the overall tale is the loving manner in which he develops the characters of Lance and Frieda, who are well, Goats. Poirier does a splendid job giving each animal unique personalities that tie into the story very well. The segments where Ellis and Goat man interact directly with these animals are some of the highlights of this tale.  Poirier’s character study is full of dark humor and over the top characters but manages to humanize them all enough to make the story work. Goats is definitely a step away from my traditional plot driven genre reads, but its highly enjoyable entertaining situations, offbeat characters and strong lead make it worth the trek.

What is there to say about Ray Porter? You basically always know what you are going to get, a strong, clear humanizing read by an actor who understands characters. Porter is at best when he is tackling complicated character, and Goats is a playground for his skills.  For each character, Porter finds the root of their persona and brings it to life. For Goat Man, Porter is all gravelly but with and air of whimsy and his shrieking hysterical Wendy is spot on. I was wondering how a man with a strong baritone voice would handle a 14 year old, but he just softens his voice, and takes on the cadence and petulant vocal styling of a pretentious youth, and it works.  It’s always helpful when stepping out of you literary comfort zone in audiobooks to have a narrator you trust and more and more Ray Porter is one I feel I can constantly rely on to guide me through a book of any stripe.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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