Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat review @ Verbicide

“And then the girl from the Activities was standing before me. You remember her, the one from my recurring dream. The one I murdered, even if I don’t exactly remember the details. She stood before me, a hole the size of a football cut into her stomach, her hands cradling her innards.”

Those are the kind of stark descriptions of the grotesque and fantastic that litter Andrez Bergen’s debut novel. Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi noir caper that comes on quick and relentless, and doesn’t quit until the last words.

The protagonist, Floyd Maquina, is a messed up guy. Living in Melbourne, Australia (which happens to be the last city on Earth) he hunts Deviant citizens with government sanctioned vigor and a wicked drug and alcohol dependency. There’s violence, humor, and some tugging of heartstrings, but all in all, Bergen manages to keep things light despite a setting of pure bleakness: constant rain, depression, drug addiction. Somehow, among all of the drabness and desolation, Bergen crafts a tale that is full of fun dialogue, quirky idiosyncrasies, imaginative, lively characters, and a relatable world to put it all inside of. The image of Floyd sitting on a cramped train with his head pressed against a rain washed window reflecting bright with neon advertisements still sticks with me.

At the heart of Bergen’s novel is the love affair our author has with popular culture. This book is bursting with nods and homage’s to everything from Humphrey Bogart to Mobile Suit Gundam. At times I thought that his continuous placement of sly cultural references would weigh the narrative down and Bergen’s original thoughts would get lost in the milieu. Not the case. His sensitive placement and explanations of these references binds them firmly to the story and are vital to the reader’s sense of place and feeling. The idea could have gone overboard, but the execution remains poignant. And just in case some things go over your head (example: a tosser cracking foxy with a twist) there is a glossary and an encyclopedia in the back.

Bergen’s style doesn’t coddle the reader. His sometimes informal voice and penchant for showing and not telling require a little extra participation on the reader’s part. The result, though, is a quick but memorable excursion to a unique place that rewards the reader with invigorating style and a very satisfying ending. Check this one out.

EVAN PEARSON @ Verbicide Magazine, 29 Aug. 2011

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