I’ve had my ass beat quite a few times,” says Brad Land, standing outside the condemned fraternity house in Florence, S.C., where he was kidnapped nine years ago, an experience the 27-year-old recounts in his intense debut memoir, ”Goat” (Random House, $22.95). ”I’ve had my ass beat here,” he adds — meaning, more precisely, a 20-minute drive away from here, after two kids he didn’t know asked him, on this very spot, for a ride home following a 1995 frat party. He said yes, and they led him to the outskirts of town, savagely assaulted him, dumped him on the road, and stole his Oldsmobile.
It’s the stomach-churning intro (”there’s so much blood I’m drinking it”) of a present-tense personal history that only gets worse. Psychologically shattered (and rendered nearly deaf in one ear), Land sought a change of scenery by joining his younger brother Brett on the other side of the state at Clemson University, and, feeling ”the frantic need to belong,” opted to pledge Brett’s frat. Bad call. The hazing he endured from his Kappa Sig brothers reignited sick, awful memories of his beating and spawned — seven years later — this slim, grim, and buzzed-about true story recently excerpted as a ”frat boy abuse” tell-all in ”GQ.”
Land says he’s ”intrigued and appalled by” young men’s ”Fight Club”-esque capacity for violence and ”drawn to write about it,” but emphasizes that he didn’t set out to pen a fraternity expose. ”That idea makes me cringe,” he says, looking — in his ratty clothes, skinny frame, and long hair — more like a Stroke than a Phi Delt. ”To me the book is about awkwardness and not feeling like you belong.” Nevertheless, the hazing scenes are nerve-racking, especially following Land’s opening assault. ”We got taken out to this cinder-block building,” says Land, going on to recount a hazing episode in the book too R-rated to repeat here. ”I was like, ‘What the f — – are they thinking?” He laughs brusquely. ”At least with someone who was robbing me, they were robbing me. I could see the utilitarian purpose of that. They want my car. That’s why they’re yelling at me, that’s why they’re beating me up. But when it’s just frat-boy ARR ARR ARR” — he hollers like an animal — ”it’s like ‘What the f — -?”’
After a few more hazings, Land quit Kappa Sig, and at the end of the semester — for reasons best not to divulge — he and Brett left Clemson for good. Three years later, having graduated from his hometown college in Florence, Land started ”Goat” in the MFA program in creative nonfiction at UNC Wilmington. First, he tried to fictionalize his 1995 assault. Then he tried writing about the hazing. Months later, he finally put the two together (”I know it seems totally obvious, but it took me a while to get there”). Two more years of writing and rewriting produced a manuscript that attracted an agent, and then Random House. ”It really is uncommon that you see something this good that grabs you this fast, right away,” says acquiring editor Lee Boudreaux. ”This is the first book in what’s gonna be a very interesting career.”