Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen
Published April 1st 2011 by Another Sky Press
Review by N.E. White.
Mr. Bergen’s first novel is a rambling story that, in the end, delivers a satisfying and surreal tale of redemption. Set in the distant future in a post-apocalyptic Melbourne, Australia, we meet Floyd Maquina, a drunk and down-trodden Seeker who manages to save the future from an even more dismal future despite spending more time passed-out that sober.
It all begins when Mr. Maquina manages to do what he has avoided in his job as a Seeker of Deviants: he kills one by mistake. In a blundered moment, Floyd kills a young, female Deviant, members of closed society that have been deemed unworthy and in need of Hospitalization. Until this one Deviant, Floyd had managed to avoid killing any Deviant, instead doing his job and bringing them in for treatment (that often killed them anyway). Floyd is haunted by the murder in more ways than one throughout the book, and we learn that until he comes to terms with it, those he loves will be hunted down and killed.
Throughout Floyd’s bizarre rise to fame, Mr. Bergen paints a future world in bleak, acid tones. The last bastion of civilization is Melbourne, Australia with most of the disenchanted masses living outside the dome, an enclosed paradise for the rich. We never do learn what made the world the way it is, but it’s hinted that rampant consumerism and corporations are at fault. Dark clouds and stinging rain is the norm unless one lives under the safe and sanitized dome.
But that safety comes under question as the Deviants mount a terrorist-like insurgence to claim back their rights. After all, they’re people, too. Or are they?
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is a first-person narrated tale, and it took me over half the book to get into the story. Floyd just didn’t do it for me. (Though, to be fair, most first-person narratives don’t.) He was drunk or high more often than not, experienced several blackouts that confused him (and me), and he seemed such a loser it didn’t make sense why he kept succeeding. It seemed there were no consequences for his failures. Sure, other characters paid for his shortcomings, but he didn’t. Couple all that with Mr. Bergen’s penchant to refer to antiquated, foreign, or just plain odd movies throughout the book, and one can understand that TSMG doesn’t score that high for me.
Nonetheless, TSMG is actually a well crafted piece of storytelling. We see Mr. Bergen’s battered world through the lens of Floyd’s eyes, ears and nose. And we learn along with Floyd that sitting back and doing what we are told to save our own butt might not be the best strategy. Rather, blindly accepting popular media messages only serves those who aim to control us.
If you like first-person narratives, and film noir and hardboiled literature of the early to mid-twentieth century, then you’ll like Mr. Bergen’s Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. If not, try it anyway. It just may surprise you.