Picks and Pans Review: Goat Brothers

updated 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Larry Colton

What happened to the people we knew when we were young and dumb and in college, waiting for life to get officially under way? That is the question Colton attempts to answer by tracing his life and those of four of his fraternity brothers at Berkeley from graduation in 1965 to the present.

"I didn't set out to write a social history or an attack on the women's movement or an essay on the territory of masculinity," Colton, a former pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and former son-in-law of Hedy Lamarr, notes in his introduction. "I just needed to tell the stories of five fraternity brothers. I was compelled."

Colton's compulsion has spawned a rather tedious, repetitive odyssey that calls to mind Sara Davidson's superior memoir, Loose Change. The goat brothers, as the boys of Pi Kappa Alpha were known, had little in common save their residence at the campus jock house, their lack of interest in the burgeoning student foment (when South Vietnam's Madame Nhu comes to speak, the goats show up only to see her pretty daughter) and their keen interest in getting looped and getting laid, in the process treating women with spectacular callousness.

Colton's uninspired narrative shifts from chapters on Ron (who, unbeknownst to almost everyone, was part black), Loren (a self-absorbed jock and would-be entrepreneur), Steve (who didn't let a shotgun marriage crimp his dating schedule), Jim (nobody at the Pi KA house figured out how the quiet, unmuscular Jim had achieved goathood) and Colton himself.

Initially it's tough to keep the goat brothers straight. Later Colton tries to mine their lives (Vietnam, menial hospitals, dashed dreams, failed businesses, failed marriages) for generational symbolism, but he produces no revelations or lasting insights into character. Colton says he didn't set out to write a social history but rather to make a journey. Fine. Unfortunately he never makes it imperative for the reader to come along. (Doubleday, $23.95)

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