Review of Shoot the Buffalo in The Oregonian

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.


‘Shoot the Buffalo’ is right on the mark
Sunday, November 06, 2005
KATIE SCHNEIDER
The Oregonian

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.

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