Jack Matthews’s fiction has been praised by Eudora Welty, Tim O’Brien, Anthony Burgess, Doris Grumbach, W. P. Kinsella, Walker Percy and a host of other distinguished writers and critics. His novel, Hanger Stout, Awake! (Harcourt Brace, 1967; Hock Hocking Books, 1997) was the only book selected by NBA-Award poet, William Stafford, in an Antaeus series on “Neglected Books Of The 20th Century.” (Matthews says that with luck, it might become one of the neglected books of the millennium.)
In his latest novel, Matthews returns to the 1850s, the time of his novel, Sassafras (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983)–a book “the young Mark Twain might write” if he came back to life, according to James Dickey, author of the best-selling novel, Deliverance. Here, in The Gambler’s Nephew, you will enter a world of slavery, abolitionist passion, murder, hypocrisy, grave-robbery, chicanery, holiness, memory, guilt and plain old-fashioned cussedness.
It’s a politically incorrect world of unrepentant capital punishment, when there were plenty of scoundrels just asking to be hanged by the neck until dead, thus coming as close as they could ever get to being civilized. In contrast, however, the reader will come upon the beauty and grandeur of the old steamboats plying the Ohio River, along with people troubled by such grand irrelevancies as love and tenderness. In short, The Gambler’s Nephew brings us a world as richly confused as our own–familiar yet different . . . and as alive as living can get.
Reviews and Criticism
Review by Robert Nagle, “Matthews doesn’t pass judgment on beliefs and superstitions which might seem repugnant to the the modern reader. Instead Gambler’s Nephew shows how people lived with such beliefs while still professing themselves to be religious and upstanding. ..The key thing, I think, is recognizing the parallels between Nehemiah the abolitionist and the slave owner; both were guided by moral impulses and both were troubled by the guilt of their decisions.”
Review by David Atkinson, Pank Magazine, “This indirect manner of revelation about the characters making up this community pervades the book, providing delightful secretive discovery after another for the reader. For me, this is one of the most magical aspects of what Matthews has accomplished in this work. “
Review by Claire Blechman, Ploughshares, “For a story focused on morality and rife with violence, The Gambler’s Nephew is surprisingly light-hearted. Many contemporary authors try to make you writhe under the weight of heavy philosophical issues, but Matthews would rather you shake your head and give a small smile.”
Profile and Review by Jim Phillips in Athens News, “Matthews looks at his people with a clear and merciless eye, laying out all the pettiness, greed and self-absorption that humans are prone to, but he does it without a hint of rancor, and more than a little affection – jaundiced and cynical affection, but real nonetheless.”