John Yount

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The Trapper's Last Shot

Yount, John

Last Updated: Dec-16-2011
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


The Trapper’s Last Shot opens in 1960 when Beau Jim Early is returning home to Cocke County, Georgia, after 6 years in the U.S. Army. Beau Jim moves in with Dan, his brother, who is 15 years older and now a farmer, both of them survivors of a fire that killed their parents and drove them from North Carolina. Living with Dan in very straitened circumstances are his mean-spirited and child-abusing wife, Charlene, and Sheila, their thumb-sucking 7 year old who is about to repeat first grade, perhaps in part due to the literal pillow-smothering attacks at the hands of Charlene when she was still an infant, and assuredly in part due to the intellectually barren home life described.

Beau Jim realizes his immediate post-service dream of enrolling in college, nearby Senneca College, while learning to hustle pool with Claire, his high school classmate now mentor. Claire is a worldly wise alcoholic homosexual who has learned how to survive in the deep South as such while remaining just below the radar of his homophobic, racist white contemporaries. Somewhere amidst all this hubbub Beau Jim meets up with an old high school classmate, Yancey, and, a trifle improbably, becomes her beau as well as her Beau.

Although enjoying college and doing well, Beau Jim begins to doubt his intellectual fit as a college man, given his background and temperament. Shortly after, he and Claire suffer a beating at the hands of the stereotypically vicious local Deputy Sheriff Earl Wagner, a beating initiated by Claire’s homosexuality, which Jim had not suspected. This beating is the penultimate climactic event in the book: Jim quits college; Claire effectually disappears from view; and the focus now shifts to Dan and his struggling farm and family life.

Charlene, in a fit of pique over Dan’s decision to have her milk the cow to save money, sets the barn on fire (a fact never discovered by Dan), kills the cow and, in so doing, detonates the apocalyptic sequence of events that close this dark novel in an even more noir fashion. Dan snaps mentally, shooting to death an entire family of innocent blacks whom he knew and respected, as well as a stranger, a college student at Senneca.

The final pages, like the opening ones, provide a bookend (literally) of bleakness: we find Beau Jim working as a mason in  a new town with despicably mean white masons in a dead end job as he tries to establish a family life with Yancey and Sheila, whom Charlene is more than happy to be offloading on them. Unlike the initial pages, the ending offers a glimmer of the hope for an intact family life for Beau and Yancey and Sheila.

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