A SINGLE SHOT by Matthew F. Jones (Farrar Straus & Giroux: $22; 247 pp.). The most terrifying thing about this unnervingly vivid novel is the fact that the protagonist is a simple man, a basically good man, the victim of a single moment, a single accident that pulls the switch on his already derailed life. John Moon just wants his wife and his son back. His worst sin, it seems, is hunting more than his legal quota of deer per season. One fateful morning, when every leaf in the forest is already whispering "Go home, John Moon" and he is tracking a buck he has wounded but not killed, Moon by accident shoots a young girl and kills her. Among her possessions he finds $100,000, which he takes, thinking only that it will buy him back his wife and son.
His anguish and confusion are so precisely drawn, physically, spiritually, emotionally, that his crisis evokes every palm-sweating, heart-stopping, seemingly undo-able mistake you've ever made. It's that moment when innocence is chiseled from the pure potential each human is born with.
Moon grows more desperate with each of the seven days described in the novel, and events thicken around him until the plot overwhelms him, until he resembles, more than anything else, one of Kafka's great characters, perhaps Gregor Samsa, on his back, unfamiliar legs flailing in the air.
It's a terrific novel, one cause of this being the author's restraint: There are a lot of strings he could have pulled (for example, more on the relationship between Moon and his son). As it is, you can hardly breathe while you're reading the book--who could possibly negotiate sobbing at the same time?