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A Single Shot by Matthew F Jones

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Foreword by Daniel Woodrell
Daniel Woodrell is the author of Winter’s Bone, The Bayou Trilogy and The Outlaw Album: Stories.

In a time when reliable standards of personal conduct have allegedly eroded and, no longer anchored by religious conviction or cultural cohesion, have diminished to irresolute situational postures and secular mumbles, an older, less elastic code of honor may seem vastly appealing, even heroic. To avert the confusions attendant on choice, such codes are simplified, starkly so, but clearly: Do that to me, you can rely on me to do this to you. Do that to my kin, watch for smoke from your garage. Say that to my wife, and this is the bog where your worried relatives will find you face down and at peace forever. Should it require the efforts of generations to uphold this code, to respond to the responses, so be it. Such codes ask an awful lot of adherents (my own great grandfather was an adherent, and when a slander on his wife reached his ears obeyed the code promptly and went door to door with a pistol throughout the neighborhood I still live in, but, shrewdly, no one he encountered would admit to being the source and he did not get the satisfaction of killing some poor wretched gossip and his wife attempted suicide by drinking Paris Green while he was out thoroughly publicizing the slander) and deliver little, but they yet exist.

John Moon, the resolute, pitiful and confused man at the heart of A Single Shot, one of the finest novels of rural crime and moral horror in the past few decades, has an inherited code of his own, but almost innocently violates it, and experiences a cascade of nightmares in response. He is a hunter, raised on the rules of hunting, the ethics of hunting, and can’t let a wounded deer slink into the thicket to die a slow agonizing death. So he follows as he should, obeying every tenet of the deerslayer code, chases up hills and over rocks, on and on, then down another hill until exhausted, when suddenly a bush wiggles, there’s a flash of brown, and he breaks the most important and basic rule of all, pulls that trigger. Moon is the creation of Matthew F. Jones, a hard, wonderful and very powerful writer you might not know yet, but ought to soon. But be forewarned, dear reader, Jones is a twisted motherfucker when sitting at his keyboard, twisted in the manner so many of us appreciate mightily, and will not spare your tender sensibilities should you be among those poor souls afflicted by such. He rakes you over the coals at a measured pace, unfurls wrath from six angles, and the amen he delivers over John Moon will keep even other twisted motherfuckers awake nights.

Andrei Tarkovsky, the legendary Russian film director, once said, “The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thought, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.”

My personal list of nasty country boy and girl writers who so admirably insist on sharing their “ploughing and harrowing” with the wider world, representing, if you will, is select but with room for more–Jim Thompson, Flannery O’Connor, Tom Kromer (Waiting for Nothing), Charles Williams, Tillie Olsen (in her fashion, trust me), James Ross, Meridel LeSueur (The Girl, a masterpiece), vast acres of Joe Lansdale, Larry Brown, William Gay. Matthew F. Jones has a seat at the table and has for a good while though not everybody noticed. Well, notice now, friends, Jones is major, he’s got the piss and vinegar and moral rigor that make books matter, and he’s got more books to offer.

MY REVIEW
The story starts off with a bang literally! A man in the wilderness stalking his prey and it’s not even hunting season somethings not right! Visceral and fully loaded with tension, hooks you in and does not let go.
With a dead girl, missing money and more dead to come in the balance the author takes you through seven days of hell with the main protagonist John Moon as leading role. Fate will play it’s role. Edge of your seat page-turning with some wonderful writing. I can’t find fault in this thrill read.
John is not quite 100% all there, i seem to understand from the story that he is having some psychological problems. He at one point cooks rattlesnake strip steak, yes that’s right rattlesnake that’s new to me as a meal.
A good man at the core faced with a guilt that would not leave him. The protagonist finds himself in possession of quite alot of money and someone wants it, that money brings hope to the protagonists life of winning back his wife, who he is obsessed with. She does not want to be part of his life anymore and with a young child in the balance he just does not want to let go.
Written in the vein of Jim Thompson and recently a novel i loved with a similar pace and brutality Devil all the time.
Within these pages you will find examples of the most brutal and grittiest sentences. The author does not waste any page as it is a gripping read from beginning to the end. Must warn you that there are a few passages of sexual explicit content.

“His small, simple world has turned ambiguously sinister. Heads have two faces, one visible, one not. Words, though spoken in proper linguistic form, don’t mean what they ought to. From one moment to the next, nothing in this upside-down world is static. Even voices dichotomise, their bifurcating sounds clouding his thoughts, sending his mind reeling first down one oath, then down another. Who can be trusted in this world? Humanity itself- the whole great mass- is mutable. John feels Ill equipped to deal with it.”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 12 October 2011

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