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Six Angles of Wrath: An Appreciation of Matthew F. Jones’ A SINGLE SHOT

In 1996, Daniel Woodrell was one of the first to weigh in when Matthew F. Jones’ acclaimed novel A SINGLE SHOT was first published, writing: “Jones owns a fine writer’s eye for the kind of details that matter” in a review that ran in The Washington Post. As Mulholland Books brings A SINGLE SHOT back into print, Woodrell was gracious enough to weigh in once again fifteen years later, with the following essay included as a foreword in the Mulholland Books edition of A SINGLE SHOT.

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.

Five of Daniel Woodrell’s eight novels were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. A recipient of the PEN West Award, Woodrell lives in the Ozarks near the Arkansas line with his wife, Katie Estill. Mulholland Books published THE BAYOU TRILOGY: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and The Ones You Do in April 2011. Little, Brown will publish THE OUTLAW ALBUM: Stories by Daniel Woodrell in October 2011.

Matthew F. Jones is the author of the critically acclaimed novels A Single Shot, Boot Tracks, Deepwater, The Elements of Hitting, Blind Pursuit and The Cooter Farm, as well as a number of screenplays, including adaptations of A Single Shot and Boot Tracks, both which are being filmed in 2011. Deepwater was made into a film in 2005. Jones grew up in rural upstate New York and lives now in Charlottesville, Virginia.