Fiction · Reader's Advisory

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

The library’s Books and Brew Book Club read Bull Mountain this month.  Here’s what one of our members thought of it:

If you’ve ever thought that your family is too dysfunctional and you can’t, just can’t even, with them anymore, Bull Mountain is the book for you. You’ll read about the Burroughs family down in Georgia, and how through generations of crime, abuse, and out-right violence, they owned and ran everything that happened on their mountain, and you’ll think to yourself… maybe my family isn’t so bad after all.

For sensitive readers, there’s a lot of tough material in here. It runs the gambit from alcoholism to drug abuse, rape to mutilation, extreme poverty, prostitution, and physical violence of all kinds. Actually, I was surprised that I enjoyed it at all, but I really did. Panowich writes characters that I cared about and, when they were misbehaving in various ways, I kept yelling at the book in my head. “You’re better than that!” I kept telling them, but they didn’t listen to me…

The mystery, though not all that mysterious, was quite enjoyable as well. I think that the main point of Bull Mountain is the multi-generational struggle between nature vs nurture. Are people born a certain way, trained by their family to be that way, or is it a magical combination of both? What would it take to produce a good man from a mountain of bad ones? ReadBull Mountain to find out.

To the Burroughs, family is everything. Here, Rye is looking at Cooper’s (his brother) son: “As they ate, Rye studied Gareth’s face…. His eyes were set deep and narrow like his father’s. … They were Cooper’s eyes. It was Cooper’s face, without the calico beard, or the grit, or the anger. Rye remembered when his brother looked like that. It felt like a hundred years ago. pg 11, ebook. I was reminded of myself in that passage. When I look at my various sisters’ children, I see them in the child’s face. It’s just like that too, in that I’m transported to thirty years ago when we were all so young and carefree. None of us were/are what I would call angry though.

Another of the main story arcs is that Clayton (one of the Burroughs) is the town sheriff and the rest of his family are the people that he’s supposed to be protecting the rest of society from. They’ve had a big falling out and now, Clayton is no longer welcome on the mountain: “This place was his home, no matter how unkind it had been to him. Clayton knew he would always be welcome, but the badge had no business here at all. If a thing existed up here (on the mountain), it was because it belonged here. And if it didn’t belong, the people who lived here made damn sure it didn’t stay.” pg 109, ebook.

This part reminded me of my family too: “No hugs or small-talk sentiment, just a hand on a shoulder and a respectful nod made it obvious to anyone watching that these men were family. It wasn’t necessary to catch up. They were both thankful to be there now.” pg 127 ebook. That’s what it’s like to hang out with my father, a painfully shy introvert. But, you know he cares, because he’s there and he’ll sit with you if you’re family.

Finally, this moment between Clayton’s wife and Big Val captured the general feeling of reading Bull Mountain for me: “They shared a moment of crushing sadness that tightened her chest and suddenly made it hard to breathe. It was the kind of sadness brought on by turning corners that led you to places there was no finding your way home from. They had both looked deep within themselves and found an ugliness that couldn’t be stuffed back inside. She’d seen that look on the faces of people before, but now she understood it. Now she owned it. pg 225 ebook. And boom! Panowich breaks your heart. Consider yourself warned.

Thanks for reading! ~Heidi

This review was originally printed on Heidi’s blog.

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