Shoot the Buffalo
by Matt Briggs
Appearing at Powell's City of Books,
Mon Nov 7, 7:30 pm, free
The latest offering from Clear Cut Press (aside from being adorably pocket-sized as usual) is a well-crafted work of fiction by Seattle-based writer Matt Briggs.
Shoot the Buffalo is composed of eight parts that alternate between the childhood of Aldous Bohm and his life as a grown man in the army. Bohm's childhood is spent in the thick of the Snoqualmie Forest, where his parents have moved in order to "reinvent the American family." His parents are working-class hippies in post-Vietnam America who, despite their best efforts, create a frustrating black hole of pot smoke and irresponsibility. The retelling of these circumstances focuses on the death of Bohm's younger sister. Between these episodes, Bohm narrates his experience at an army camp in Texas, where he still suffers from the memory of his sister's death and the complicating influences of his family life.
As Bohm moves back and forth between his childhood and its aftermath, each narrative strain becomes more complex, wrought with deeper meanings and emotional investments passed from youth to adulthood and back again. Briggs does an excellent job balancing these parallel stories; joined by a common theme, they evolve together to create a fictional world that's much more than the sum of its parts. Characters become rich human portraits, inspiring bewilderment, laughter, and sympathetic understanding. At times, Briggs' talented hand practically vanishes from the work: Characters like Bohm's acid-tripping, philosophically wise, slightly misguided uncle take on lives of their own, and move the story along as though they were just living their lives there in front of you, revealing psychological and emotional nuances without being stubbornly pushed around by their author. At the same time, 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. Briggs is obviously both hard working and talented, and I can only hope that there are more works from him to come