It’s always a great moment when you discover an interesting author who is new to you. That happened to me recently when I received a book by John Mort, who is not a new author at all, but an established author who I simply had missed.
I should have heard of John Mort before now, but somehow had not. He’s an accomplished writer who lives in Springfield, and who has a bunch of books out that he’s either written or edited. I finished Goat Boy of the Ozarks in the last couple of days and based on that one, I’m going to go looking for more.
The “goat boy” of the title is Johnny Bell, a sixteen-year-old who like most boys his age struggles with authority, his sense of self, and inconveniently frequent erections. But unlike most boys his age, he is the poorest of the poor, parentless, largely friendless, and suspicious of the social-service foster family with whom he is placed, although in his isolation he also leans out for the scraps of affection they offer him as well.
At first I found the title off-putting, unsure whether I was in for some sort of Ozarks gothic story, nature idyll, or what. But when I discovered late in the book what the “goat boy” referred to, it came as an unexpected and refreshing surprise as the book took a turn into the deconstruction of Ozarks genre mythology, an activity dear to my own heart. I suppose one could say that the storyline of the book follows the coming-of-age pattern, but there are other springs flowing through this parcel as well.
The narrative style is curious; it’s a bit jagged, with elliptical moments in which we have to figure out what happened in the interim, but after a while I got used to that method. I could tell I was in the hands of a writer with serious purposes, which gave me all the incentive I needed to persist despite my uncertainty.
After reading Goat Boy of the Ozarks, I plan to seek out more of John Mort’s work and give it a look as well.