- In print (in a large, robust format) from The Publication Studio
- Out of Print from Clear Cut Press
- Paperback $14.95 from Powells.
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Winner of a 2006 American Book Award
Finalist for a 2006 Washington State Book Award
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
[Briggs] newest novel, Shoot the Buffalo, is both a deliberate and impulsive reading experience. The mood of his prose reminds me of a term I’ve heard Jonathan Raymond use: The Dark Hippie.
– Kevin Sampsell, author of Beatiful Blemish, at Powells Blog
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.
– The Oregonian
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
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 affect on his life view.
– The Bellingham Herald
Briggs’s view of nature seems approached with an eye and mind of someone who really knows it. The nature of these back woods 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
This excerpt originally appeared in The Raven Chronicles.
“Beasts live in the forest,” my uncle Oliver said. “They come into our world to hide amongst us in disguise. These animals look exactly like houses, peaked roofs, shingles, eaves, porches, mother-in-law apartments, all of it. These beasts maneuver out of the trees and plant down beside the road, looking for all the world like a fixer-upper, cheap, you know, but it’s just a show so that people will come to live in them, not knowing.
“Suddenly, the house beast gets a hair up its ass, and sets out, just taking off with all the peoples’ stuff crammed in its guts. The beast rips out of its foundation, unhooks the electrical wires, jerks out the pipes and crawls back into the forest, dumping out the furniture, the family portraits, the family heirloom grand piano. I’m sure you’ve seen a place where a house like this has been. In that gaping foundation, one of these beasts has lived, listening to the people go about their daily business. These people were unaware that every word they said was being heard, and would ultimately be used by this beast. But that’s what it fed on. It lived off the captive family’s words. It would get a little indigestion after a bad joke, get stuffed and a little drunk after a bullshit card-game with the cronies. When it came down to it, the beast really liked an argument. It filled the house with its hostile breath, the vapors altering the mood of the people inside, raising their blood pressure, making them pissed. Really utterly mad. They started with bickering at breakfast, carried over from a night of insomnia, tossing and turning because they were already peeved at something somebody had said during the day, you know, ‘John, would you please brush your teeth after you eat an onion sandwich?’ John lays in bed, having spent thirty minutes brushing his teeth. Morning, John gets up and throws the milk at his wife. ‘You smell like milk, Bitch.’ You get the picture. And a murdered family, one that just gets nuts and kills itself is a real bonus to the beast. Every beast that’s been around has scored a family murder. The men start to drip frothy red bubbles out of their nostrils and they butcher their sleeping wives and carve the hearts out of their children and in horror at their own brutality, they cut out their shit-filled innards.
“I’ve lived to tell about seeing one of these monsters moving. In the dark trees by the Raging River, one night coming back from a late day fishing upstream toward Preston, in the pale blue dusk, I saw a house walking upright, through a stand of old cedars. A yellow light spilled out of the windows. Bare floors tilted in the forward stride of the long sumo-wrestler legs. Its toes pressed into the damp earth. Naked light bulbs swayed inside the empty rooms. It was a vacant two-room house-beast. The building didn’t make much noise. I could hear, as if nothing was happening, a distant airplane, the rush of water over stones in the river, the rattling of a car on the Preston-Fall City Road. I lay in the cover of the sword ferns, their spiny leaves tickling my face, drifting spores up my nose. I had to sneeze. But, if I sneezed, I’d get a two-yard-long sumo wrestler foot planted on my face. A heavy creak of wood resonated through the forest. The house lowered its roof line under a cedar tree’s drooping branches and was gone. I sneezed and got the hell out of there.
“I recalled the time your Dad and I returned home when we were kids, and where our house had been, an empty foundation stood. Our sister, Joyce, sat crying in the driveway. ‘My record player was in there,’ she said. It had been. But, everything was gone. Our house had been one of these monsters and had just picked up and left with all our stuff in its guts.”
“Where do these creatures come from?” I asked. Oliver held me onto the bed. Jake snored in the bottom bunk.
“Gigantic… prehistoric… flightless… birds. They evolved. They had to. At first, they just sort of looked like houses, and no one lived in them. But The FBSS, Flightless Bird Slaying Society, found them out. They had to become trickier to survive, breed, mature, mutate, and breed again.”
“Houses don’t have sex.”
“True. However, my friend, birds do.”
“No, they don’t.”
“And why not? Wouldn’t you have sex if you had the chance? Hell yes you would. Birds got to have sex. Where do you think they come from? New Fucking Jersey?”
“How can you tell if it’s a house?”
“Centuries of fucking evolution have made that impossible. Literally. Evolution. Survival of the best damned fuckers. Hence, the need for there to be sex and lots of it. The ones that could be detected have been killed by the FBSS. It is a moot point these days. Nobody can tell.”
I was ten years old and full of moot questions.