The Remains of River Names

Winner of the 1998 King Arts Commission Publication Award

Briggs’ novel opens with Artie and Janice Graham, former hippies, fleeing as the police close in on their marijuana farm. They show little remorse at leaving their two school-aged sons behind to fend for themselves. These former flower children possess no ideals or purpose and live for the moment through the fifteen-year span of the novel, while their children, trapped in a cycle of selfishness, become isolated and antisocial. As adults, they separately commit assault, drunk driving, and attempted rape.

“Abstract words like sacrifice or hallow are barren beside the concrete names of rivers and mountains like Snoqualimie, Snohomish,” Briggs writes. Like these rivers, the Grahams are unfeeling and cold, raging and stagnating until the novel’s close. Finally, youngest son Dillon alone pursues redemption by attempting to salvage a damaged relationship with his partner. “You are not just a word or a name,” he says.

While the “dreadful business of living, working, and sleeping makes us prisoners right now,” Briggs demonstrates that life attains meaning when one makes a conscious effort to give of oneself. Powerful in its images, Faulknerian in structure and tone, Briggs’ foreboding portrait of contemporary society is challenging and effective. — Samuel Dempsey


Briggs has captured the America that neither progressives nor family-value advocates want to think about, where bohemianism has degenerated into dangerous dropping out.
Ann Powers, The New York Times Book Review

Briggs exhibits an impressive gift for conveying dark situations and murky motives with illuminating clarity. His mutlivalenced prose frequently spotlights his characters’ befuddled, soulful searches for greater meaning, capturing the atmosphere of ambivalence, despair, and stifled hope.
Publishers Weekly

Briggs characters are achingly fine, wringing empathy and exasperation at every blundering turn.

With this first collection that functions as a novel, Matt Briggs adds to the gravelly layers of “Northwest writing,” while the controversy over what the moniker means must continue. The Remains of River Names is a beautiful, blunt, and haunting book, one that takes regionalism and splinters it; Briggs’ is a voice that will take our area into the future, and I for one look forward to it.
Traci Vogel, The Stranger

The Remains of River Names sits on the stomach like a cold flat stone, indigestible, and so it should. […] Northwest writing (Brautigan, Kesey, Carver, Hugo) likes to dwell on sodden lives, and Matt Briggs has taken them to the next generation.
The American Book Review

[An auspicious debut volume for 29-year-old Matt Briggs, whose sharp-eyed yet sympathetic vision of life in the overgrown, semi-rural backwaters of the Pacific Northwest puts him somewhere on the spectrum that leads from Raymond Carver to Kurt Cobain. His style is certainly terse and declarative in the now-familiar Carver tradition. But his characters are often startlingly self-aware, and even in their dead-end desperation they remain alive to the remarkable landscapes, both fecund and desolate, that surround them.
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

The Remains of River Names was discussed in an article about The Stranger’s Genius Awards.