Shoot the BuffaloBooks
Shoot the Buffalo
Publication date: December 2005
Press: Clear Cut Press (out of print)
Press: Publication Studio Portland
Winner of the American Book Award, 2006
Nominated for a Washington State Book Award, 2006
The summer Aldous Bohm turns nine, his parents move to the woods near Snoqualmie, Washington, “to reinvent the American family.” The Bohm’s are working class hippies in post-Vietnam America. Their makeshift pastoral takes shape in a haze of pot smoke and good intentions and ultimately births a vortex of personal insecurity and romanticism taking the family deeper into the woods to destroy them. Aldous oversees these tragedies, recalled a decade later, after he has left Snoqualmie to join the military in the buildup to the first Gulf War. Sweeping in scope yet unerringly precise in its detail, Shoot the Buffalo conjoins the dead end narrative of American masculinity with its stubborn twin – the Romantic ideal of nature – to suggest an ambivalent way forward, a path out of these woods.
Not since Ken Kesey has a long-form literary work subjected the utopian outsider traditions of the North American west coast to such an intimate and clear-eyed scrutiny.
Matt Briggs’ books, particularly The Remains of River Names and the novel Shoot the Buffalo, are to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest what Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Grapes of Wrath were to the Salinas Valley and Monterey, or William Faulkner’s best work to New Orleans. Briggs has the language, cadence, and rain-shrouded soul of the Northwest honed to perfection in his candid and haunting style. He is a brilliant contemporary practitioner of an ancient art, that of summoning the essence of place in prose. His stories are as fluid as the moist environment that birthed them.
— Raymond Mungo, author of Total Loss Farm and Famous Long Ago
“Shoot the Buffalo is right on the mark”, Katie Schneider, The Oregonian, Nov 6, 2005
Every once in a while a novel comes along that is truly remarkable. Shoot the Buffalo by Seattle’s Matt Briggs is one of those.
In the 1970s, mountain towns outside Seattle still belonged to loggers and hippies. There was room for run-down cars and run-down houses, perched on the edge of apple orchards, enduring endless rains.
Aldous Bohm lives in Snoqualmie, where the scent of pot smoke and mold and coffee mingle in the family kitchen. He is 9 years old when his uncle shows up fresh from Vietnam, crashing into the family with the force of a meteorite. Uncle Oliver climbs into the attic and stays there until Aldous’ younger sister Adrian finally manages to lure him out.
Despite his age, Aldous is the adult of the story. His father and Uncle Oliver are the adolescents, erratic and petulant and mean. His mother isn’t strong enough to stand against either of them for long. Aldous knows he is supposed to take care of Adrian and Jake, his younger brother, but he is, after all, only 9. When the adults leave the children alone in the middle of the Hoh rain forest, Aldous panics. He forces Jake and Adrian to leave a dry cabin to look for their folks. The subsequent disaster isn’t his fault, but the memory haunts him for years.
After high school, Aldous joins the Army. He emerges from the rain and decay to find himself in the blinding sun of the South. On base, he begins to get his bearings, but can tell no one what his family was like or what happened back at home. His first intimate relationship forces him to decide how much he can reveal.
Shoot the Buffalo has a luminous quality. It is Salinger, set west of the Cascades. It is Ray Carver with longer sentences. Not since the emergence of Sherman Alexie has the Northwest produced such a unique narrative voice. Briggs can turn a cheap plastic lighter into a family heirloom, the search for Sasquatch into a child’s dream on par with Peter Pan. Briggs’ woods may be dark and deep, but there is never any doubt that Aldous will manage to hike out of them. Anyone who sees the world as Aldous does will not be lost forever.
Briggs, a Seattle resident, is the author of three story collections. Shoot the Buffalo is an award-worthy novel debut.
Review and Links
Shoot the Buffalo is a small, perfect book about large, messy things. […] Laying out his larger themes without trickiness or pretension, Briggs pins them in place using vivid particularities.
— The Seattle Times
Briggs’s view of nature seems approached with an eye and mind of someone who really knows it. The nature of these backwoods of Washington is beautiful but wild, poetic but deadly and Briggs writes it as someone who loves nature but knows it well enough to be just a little bit afraid of it. His view of the working class in the logging town of Snoqualmie is equally mature; so often working-class characters come off as either idealized heroes or doddering bumpkins. But Briggs creates real, believable characters full of flaws and strengths.
— Hebdomeros Blog, Baltimore & Washington DC
There’s no doubt as to Briggs’ skillful use of point of view, descriptive detail, aesthetic distance, and myriad other techniques of fiction that make the work uniquely his. Shoot the Buffalo is an outstanding work of fiction.
— Portland Mercury
The other core strength of the novel is Briggs’s ability to conjure the voice and perspective of an intelligent, watchful child, with all his limitations intact. Aldous Bohm is a brilliant portrait of youthful consciousness in its attempt to negotiate the complex emotions of early adulthood. To watch him grapple especially with a generous measure of misplaced guilt around which much of the book revolves, is nothing short of heartbreaking.
— The Rumpus
On the whole, Briggs offers an earnest, muscular indictment of the dropout counterculture.
— Publishers Weekly
The pages fly by as Briggs, a superb craftsman, expertly jumps back and forth in time, juxtaposing Bohm’s perceptions and experiences at 9 with events at age 18.
— Seattle Magazine
Beautifully told and filled with characters of real depth and struggle, the story shouldn’t be missed.
— School Library Journal
Briggs handles his complex yet involving plot with masterful aplomb; he has captured a distinctly Northwest setting with an original narrative voice.
— The Seattle PI
Briggs’s hefty, dreamlike book contributes worthily to Clear Cut’s splendid list.
[In] Briggs’ debut novel a young boy whose parents lead an alternative lifestyle in the woods near Snoqualmie, where a string of tragedies leave a devastating effect on his life view.
— The Bellingham Herald