James Mathews Online

Last Known Position

by James Mathews

University of North Texas Press

November 2008 (ISBN 1574412523)

Last Known Position is a short story collection that combines the Joseph Heller tradition of “war lit” with the “dirty realism” of today’s finest literary fiction – portraying desperate characters driven to make desperate choices.  Always on the edge of a dark and unpleasant reality, these characters survive by embracing fantasy, humor, violence and sometimes redemption.  Each story bears its own brand of hopeless quirkiness.  Four teenagers on an Army base steal a grenade and are later stalked by a parade horse.  An Army deserter returns home to rob the grandparents who raised him.  A national guardsman faces a homicidal superior officer in Iraq on the eve of war.  An elderly man worries that his wife’s new house guests are unrepentant cannibals.  Always tense, sometimes ridiculous, and never dull, Last Known Position brings the reader to places unknown and unforgettable.


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Praise for Last Known Position

“Mathews mines the rich fields of family, relationships, and yes, the microcosm that is the military to string together a collection that uses the terrifying and the ridiculous, the violent and the sublimely funny to speak to the larger human condition.”

        -American Literary Review   

“By the time I finished reading, I was sure of one thing: Mathews is a truly gifted writer.  His deft plots are told in voices so unassuming that they lull the reader into suspending disbelief, only to have the stories’ coldly cynical twists slap them back into reality.”

        -Bethanne Patrick, host of Author, Author!

“In this collection, James Mathews takes the short story for a wild ride in a convertible, its hair blowing free; for once, it does not have to behave itself, it can take a few turns and unexpected leaps in air. And what a ride it is. There are unforgettable images in this collection--from a horse dangling in a dead tree over a gorge in Argentina, to a grenade exploding in an "abandoned" barn that produces a panic stricken white horse with a bloody gash in its flank, and a cat permanently deafened by the noise. Around events like these, people act, and talk, and react as truthfully as in any work of fiction I've read in a dozen years. In spite of the chances he takes, Mathews earns every turn in the road. All of these stories surprise and delight; the characters are real and fully recognizable and they draw you in for that windy ride and make you grateful for the chance. This is a hell of a collection.”


         -Robert Bausch, author of A Hole in the Earth and Out of Season

"Hemingway boxed, Mailer stabbed people at parties, and James Mathews drops bombs. These stories are warrior-lit at its absolute best -- my ears are still ringing!"


        -Jack McEnany, author of Brush Cat

Last Known Position distinguished itself because every story made me care and care quickly. That’s because something was immediately at risk, the stakes were set and then raised, then raised again. Whether the characters are trying to blow up a stolen hand grenade or having a conversation in a restaurant, this writer is able to create and sustain tension. And whether they’re set in the mountains of Argentina, in battle-torn Iraq or home in Texas, these are stories about the big themes, death and life and how the choices we make can take us to new, strange places. Perhaps most impressive, though, is this writer’s authority, his willingness to hang a horse five hundred feet above the ground or place cannibals in his characters’ basement, bold moves that always pay off. And beyond it all, suffusing the danger, tempering the tension, is a welcome humor that doesn’t come at its characters’ expense or the world’s. I read these stories eagerly, resenting the time I had to be away from them, happy when I was able to come back. I expect I’ll read them again, and I predict great success for this writer.”


        -Tom Franklin, author of Poachers and Smonk

"If Carl Hiaasen and the grim reaper walked into a bar hosting a Three Stooges marathon, you’d know what’s happening in these pages.  Crank that up a notch or two—visualize getting cold-cocked  upside your medulla oblongata by Flannery O’Connor—and I guarantee you’ll die laughing.”


        -Richard Peabody, editor of Gargoyle Magazine

“In this book, the war stories were in the same class of those found in The Things They Carried.

It’s well worth the read.”

       -John Freiermuth, editor of Timber Creek Review