Read Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen Online


2008 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNERPeter Matthiessen’s great American epic–Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone–was conceived as one vast mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken up into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has cut nearly a third of the overall text and collapsed the time frame while deepening th2008 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNERPeter Matthiessen’s great American epic–Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone–was conceived as one vast mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken up into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has cut nearly a third of the overall text and collapsed the time frame while deepening the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout. In Shadow Country, he has marvelously distilled a monumental work, realizing his original vision. Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors who mostly admired him, in a killing that obsessed his favorite son.Shadow Country traverses strange landscapes and frontier hinterlands inhabited by Americans of every provenance and color, including the black and Indian inheritors of the archaic racism that, as Watson’s wife observed, "still casts its shadow over the nation."...

Title : Shadow Country
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ISBN : 9780679640196
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 892 Pages
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Shadow Country Reviews

  • Lawyer
    2019-05-31 09:10

    Shadow Country: Peter Matthiessen's New Rendering of the Watson LegendEdgar Artemas Watson (1855-1910)For seventeen days I was held enthralled by Shadow Country. Once I began it, I was unable to stop. Nothing could have pulled me away from it."A New Rendering of the Watson Legend" happens to be the subtitle of Peter Matthiessen's 2008 National Book Award winning novel. The operative word in that subtitle is Legend.A legend is a story founded in truth, indigenous to the people residing in the region where the story originated. Rooted in truth, the question becomes where does the truth stop and the legend begin?Peter Matthiessen devoted approximately thirty years of his life absorbed, or as he says in his introduction to "Shadow Country," he has learned a lot about obsession having spent so much time in the mind of E. J. Watson. For Matthiessen had previously written of Edgar Watson in a trilogy of novels: Killing Mister Watson (1990); Lost Man's River (1997); and, Bone by Bone (1999). Watson was born in 1855 in Clouds Creek, South Carolina, as Edgar Artemas Watson. In later life he changed his name to Edward J. Watson. The J stood for Jack. Matthiessen constructed his novel in daring fashion. In Book One, Edgar Watson is shot down by his neighbors on Chokoluskee Island, Florida, on October 24, 1910, suspected of a growing number of murders over a period of time. The question is obvious. How did those who knew him come to these conclusions, for, as we begin this increasingly complex web, there is no evidence, but only suspicion.Chokoluskee IslandMatthiesen's writing is brilliant not only in its structure, but the dialogue of the natives of Chokoluskee, Florida. The language is reminiscent of a blend of the inhabitants of the novels of Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner. It is as easy to believe you are listening to conversations heard along a walk down Tobacco Road or around Frenchman's Bend.Not only is Matthiesen perfect in character, dialog, and plot, he is a master of setting. For when you enter "Shadow Country," Matthiessen has effectively taken you to a lost world, relatively unblemished by man. And he will develop the theme of man's callous domination over nature in revealing plans to develop the gulf coast of the Florida Peninsula as Flagler and others permanently changed the character of the State's Atlantic coast. Here are vast rookeries of white plumed egrets, with nights shattered by the scream of Florida black panthers. Seemingly sodden logs transform into huge alligators and crocodiles. In the vast mangrove tangles, cotton mouths, coral snakes and Florida Diamondbacks wait for the unwary traveler. And it is man's nature to believe that he has the right to exterminate any species for profit.Book One is filled with fifty one monologues of fourteen separate narrators. They relate their memories of Watson and what they "know" of him. It becomes readily apparent that knowledge is an illusive concept. Among the many crimes laid at Watson's feet is the murder of Outlaw Queen Belle Starr, while he was a fugitive in the Indian Territories. Watson did not deny the story, enhancing his reputation as a man not to be trifled with.Watson has appeared as a figure in more than one Florida history. In The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, we find:Halfway up the empty Chatham River a circumspect man named Watson had built a respectable two-story frame house high on an old sand-and-shell Indian mound that commands a great sweep of river east and west. There was nothing to be seen but the fish jumping and the birds flying. It had a porch and high bare rooms, a rainwater cistern, a plank dock for his boats. He set out a cane patch, horse bananas, and the usual vegetables. He planted palm trees along the river, and two royal poinciana trees flamed against the gray house and dazzling blue sky….Edgar Watson's home on Chatham BendNobody seems to know when Watson first came to Chatham River. Nobody over there even now seems to want to say much about him. But of all the men who lived silently along those coasts with the air of strange deeds behind them, Watson’s is the figure about which multiplying legends seem most to cluster.He was a Scotsman with red hair and fair skin and mild blue eyes. He was quiet spoken and pleasant to people. But people noticed one thing. When he stopped to talk on a Fort Myers street, he never turned his back on anybody.It was said freely that he had killed people before he came to Florida, that he killed Belle Starr and two people in northwest Florida. That was nobody’s business here, from Fort Myers to Shark River. From time to time he went up to Fort Myers or Marco in his boat and took down to work at that lonely place of his on Chatham River people variously described as a boy, a rawboned woman, two white men, a Negro, a Russian, a Negro woman, an old woman. No one seems to know how many. No one seemed to notice for a while that none of these people came back.He was, of course, a plume hunter and alligator skinner, and he shared many feuds with the quick-shooting men of the wilderness….In 1910 a man and his son sailing up the Chatham River saw something queer floating by the bank. It was the body of an old woman, gutted, but not gutted enough to sink. The man said, “Let’s get along to Watson’s and tell him about it.”The son said, “Let’s get back to Chokoloskee and talk to Old Man McKinney.” At Chokoloskee they found several men talking to a Negro in McKinney’s store. The story the Negro told was that he’d worked for Watson a long time and seen him shoot a couple of men. The Negro said he’d buried a lot of people on his place, or knocked them overboard when they asked him for their money.Watson was away, the Negro said. His overseer, named Cox, killed another man and the old woman and forced the Negro to help him cut them open and throw them in the river. He said he would kill him last, but when the Negro got down on his knees and begged to be spared Cox said he would if he’d promise to go down to Key West and get out of the country. The Negro came up to Chokoloskee instead and told everything.A posse went down to Watson’s place and found plenty of bones and skulls. The overseer got away and has never been seen there since.The next day Watson came back in his boat from Marco and stopped at McKinney’s store in Chokoloskee. He came walking along the plank, quiet and pleasant, carrying his gun. And here were all the men of Chokoloskee standing quietly around with their guns.Mr. McKinney walked up to Watson slowly and said, “Watson, give me your gun.”Watson said, “I give my gun to no man,” and fired point-blank at McKinney, wounding him slightly. As if it was the same shot, every man standing there in that posse fired. Watson fell dead. Every man claimed he killed him, and nobody ever knew because there were so many bullets in him.However, Watson's end appears in a different manner in The story of the Chokoloskee Bay country: With the reminiscences of pioneer C. S. "Ted" Smallwood (Copeland studies in Florida history) by Charlton W Tebeau. According to store owner Ted Smallwood, the group of men who shot Watson was led by D. D. House, and no one faced by Watson was wounded. Matthiessen chose the Smallwood account for Watson's death.Smallwood Grocery, Chokoloskee, FloridaBook II provides a distinctly different perspective in the narration of Lucius Watson, the most loyal of Watson's children, legitimate or illegitimate. Lucius is also the most gentle of Watson's children. Following his father's death, Lucius sets out to vindicate his father's name and bring those to justice who murdered him, compiling a list of the assassins. Lucius, having been made a Marine sniper in World War One, loses his taste for revenge. However, the news that Lucius has prepared a death list is rampant in his father's former community. Lucius risks his father's fate because of that list. However, he refuses to abandon his mission to find the truth behind the rumors that swirled around his father.In the end Lucius learns a truth more horrible than that believed by the residents of Chokoluskee from his half brother Robert, whom his father referred to only as "Son Borne," failing to acknowledge him by name. Lucius' mission had been to write a biography of his father. On learning the truth, he burns it.Book III confirms Matthiessen's unconventional structure. The narrator is Edgar Watson. The voice is surprisingly formal and articulate. Watson is a man politically astute, and educated in the classics. However, this is no self serving refutation of the many accusations made against him. Watson's long monologue is a confession of what he has done and what he hasn't. He is no saint, far from it.Interestingly, Watson recalls the Iliad before his final trip to Chokoluskee:"'All of us must die. Why make a fuss about it?' Achilles to Hector.You die in your own arms, as the old people say."Those old people, the ancient Greeks, would have said that wrapped around Watson's arms was the fabric of hubris.Watson's GraveMy thanks to members of "On the Southern Literary Trail" who voted this as one of our group reads for January, 2013.This is a MUST read.

  • Bruce
    2019-06-19 06:51

    In the early 1990s, Peter Matthiessen wrote his Watson trilogy, a 1400 page work that his publishers, to his discomfort, insisted on publishing in three volumes. Never satisfied with the work, feeling that it was disjointed and insufficiently integrated, Matthiessen began a number of years ago revising and extensively reworking the story, modifying it apparently significantly, and he published the new work last year as Shadow Country. I never read the trilogy – indeed, the only Matthiessen work I’d previously read was his magnificent book, The Snow Leopard – but this new book, itself almost 900 pages, is one of the most gripping and moving novels I’ve ever read. It is based upon the life of a real person, E.J. Watson, a sugar cane grower and legendary personage of the Florida frontier at the turn of the 20th century, a man around whom stories of violence accumulated and who was apparently shot dead by a crowd of neighbors and acquaintances in 1910.The novel is organized in a fascinating and effective way. The first chapter of Book One describes Watson’s killing, the remainder of the Book being broken into multiple chapters, each from the perspective of one of 16 different characters who reflect upon who Watson was, their knowledge and experience of him, and events as they interpreted them up till his death. Book Two is about Watson’s son Lucius and his twenty-year quest to understand what happened on that fateful day, to learn who his father really was, and, at least at the onset of his search, to gain a measure of vindication and justice for his father. Book Three is told by Watson himself, beginning with the first two decades of his life in Edgefield and Clouds Creek, South Carolina, during Reconstruction, moving to the primary site of Watson’s story and life, the Ten Thousand Islands region of the southwestern Florida coast (interrupted by a brief sojourn in Oklahoma), and telling his story from his own perspective up to, yes, the instant of his death.Matthiessen is a master story-teller, his skills of description making places and persons come alive with a vividness that is startling, his ability to evoke specific and present detail and mood no doubt a result in part to his own Zen background; I found myself haunted by the sea, the vegetation, and the harsh landscape of a part of the country with which I was unfamiliar. Matthiessen’s characterizations are subtle and distinctive, his ear for dialect exquisite, and his portrayal of racial and socio-cultural differences acute and sensitive. His sense of pace and gradual revelation in the novel are highly efficacious, leading the reader through a labyrinthine story with aplomb and without confusion, like Ariadne and her thread.This is a powerful and, indeed, almost hypnotic novel, one of the best I’ve read, and I recommend it highly.

  • Christopher
    2019-06-19 07:05

    Here lies Edgar Artemas Watson.The book opens on a scene of destruction: a hurricane has ravaged the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida. A posse of Watson's neighbors forms and on the ruined beach they kill Watson as he arrives on shore. The end of this man's life marks the beginning of this epic story. The duty of the rest of the almost 900 pages of this book is to answer these questions: who is Watson and why was he killed? Was it a just or unjust death? Who did he leave behind? Was he a monster? Was he loved and did he love?There is much to be said of the structure of Shadow Country. The first part consists of narrative from Watson's family and acquaintances. The second part is the narrative of Watson's son Lucius trying to reconstruct the story of his father's life years later. And the third and final part is Watson's life story in his own words.Matthiessen is a master of semi fiction. Edgar Watson was a real man whose life became legend. This book takes the few facts known about the historical Watson and places them into a unique and heartrending narrative worthy of the American canon. Watson's house on Chatham BendTed and Mamie Smallwood, neighbors and friends of Watson.Watson's grave in the Fort Myers cemetery

  • Chrissie
    2019-06-24 03:53

    As you probably know if you have skimmed the book description, the author has in Shadow Country put all three of his earlier books about Watson into one. The first section expresses the views of all the diverse people who knew Watson. The second is his youngest son's view of his father and his life, and now finally in the third section we hear Watson's own version. Third time around, all this feels rather repetitive! Third time around is rather boring, even if the picture is further clarified. Couldn't all these different versions have been incorporated into one? Did you know that Watson really did exist; this fictional book is an attempt to understand the legend of the man. I will follow this to the end. I have about 14 hours of the total 40 hours left!Now I have completed all 40 hours! Phew. I will not repeat what I have noted before. The sections below relate to the three different books making up this story. Each book has a different style, but in all you get great dialogs that feel genuine to the core. On completing this book you understand the lawless character of southwestern Florida at the turn of the 20th Century and everything about Watson. The third and last part fills in lots of historical details. These details about the sugar industry, unions, the coming modernization, building of canals and roads, the development of the tourist trade and its encroachment on the fauna and flora are new to the previously told stories. Also you learn of life in the South during the Reconstruction. Do keep in mind that what you learn is primarily about outlaws, corrupt politics and racial discrimination. Does it give a balanced picture? There have to be SOME uncorrupted people, huh?!OK, I would have preferred if these three books had not been split up but rather all the different views incorporated into one story. I got bored third time around. I found parts repetitive. The narration by Anthony Heald remained fantastic throughout the entire audiobook. Totally fantastic. Unbelievable that this same guy could narrate Crime and Punishment and this, two very different books with completely different characters and voices and vernacular! Is he now my favorite narrator? Women, Blacks, Whites, outlaws, educated snobs - he can do them all. I have no complaints on the narration. None.Really, a very good book, but the story should have been told once. I really liked how it drew what seems to be a so genuine picture of southwestern Florida and of racial inequality at the turn of the 20th Century. *****************************Half-way through: You want to know all the details of the murder, the why and who and everything about what happened. You need to know. Does that make it a mystery? The book also gives an absolutely excellent picture of how life was in southwest Florida at the beginning of the 20th Century. How whites looked at Negroes and Indians. Does that make it historical fiction?I am very drawn into the book. Right now I think it is absolutely excellent. The narration by Anthony Heald is stunning! There is a Negro dying and how Heald reads this section could simply not be improved upon. At first I thought his women voices were not good, but I have completely changed my mind and think he does them perfectly too. But don't expect a comfort read. Blatant racial inequality, hard life, liquor and sex, but it is not written salaciously. This is quite simply how life was there and then. Do you really want to know how it was or not? If you can't stomach this then don't read the book. I think it is absolutely excellent. What is says about racial inequality is just so r-e-a-l!!!! Genuine is the one adjective that best describes the book. Sometimes what you see is not the whole truth, and yet even that can be debated.What is also amazing is how people make so many assumptions about what MUST have happened without really understand what DID happen. I think that is an important message of the book too.Hope? Well, some people belatedly realize that they actually admire some of the colored people they so despised before.This is how the second of the three books hit me.********************Tremendously atmospheric! This is primarily how I was reacting to the first of the three books.

  • El
    2019-06-03 07:53

    E. Watson, The DecemberistsMy copy of this book is 892 pages, and I understand the original manuscript was like 1300 pages. And then the Decembrists basically sum up Matthiessen's story in less than four minutes.Just sayin.This very large book is actually comprised of three separate novels (Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone), but each of the novels basically tell the same story from someone else's perspective. This is actually pretty brilliant because you don't actually feel like you're reading the same story three different times, it's just that well done.The story itself is about E.J. Watson, a near mythical outlaw who is best known (in my mind, anyway) for allegedly killing another outlaw, Belle Starr. I first read about Belle Starr in a book by someone I used to know when I was an intern for his literary magazine a hundred years ago - Belle Starr. The story is interesting to me, mostly because I have a fascination for outlaws, especially if there are mysteries surrounding them. And then my beloved Gene Tierney played Starr one time in a movie, so that pretty much solidifies it for me.In any case, it's popularly believed that Watson shot her in the back. Afterwards, Watson moved back to Florida where he probably killed some more people, and eventually his own peers turned on him because that's what a jury of peers does.This is one solid collection. It's a bit bloated; Matthiessen can bloviate at times. I found it hard to pick this back up after putting it down for a small break. But it's one solid book, it really is. The different perspectives are so different from one another so that it reads like a true account, yet similar enough to not feel like separate books. Matthiessen is genius at telling a cohesive story with a variety of voices, exceptional attention to detail, covering a vast period of time. As far as I know the story is historically accurate, and as far as I'm concerned, Watson did kill Starr. Yes, Matthiessen convinced me. Find me another, more convincing argument, and I'd be happy to check it out.But what's really brilliant about this account is that no matter what Watson did (or didn't do), Matthiessen makes him a fascinating character. He's not all good or all bad, because no one ever is. That's about the most realistic part of this book, really, the most convincing.

  • Briynne
    2019-06-16 05:55

    I swear I will never think of Florida the same again. Gone is my impression of an overly air conditioned world of old people wearing Bermuda shorts and long black socks. This book was brilliant and terrifying and drenched in blood. It’s set in the “Ten Thousand Islands” of the Florida Everglades beginning in the late 1800s when it was as lawless as the Wild West. The characters display frontier grit in spades and a vicious, poisonous breed of racism the likes of which I have never seen before. The author absolutely nails his material; you can smell the swampy water, feel the mosquitoes, and see all the way to the souls of the characters. According to the jacket, this book was originally published (against the will and intent of the author) as three separate books – Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone. After many years and extensive re-editing, the author succeeded in getting it republished according to his initial vision of the work. The results are pretty spectacular. I can see the first book working nicely as a stand-alone, but the combination of the three is what gives the book its unique texture. Book One, the former Killing Mister Watson, was undeniably my favorite. It is told end-first, with the reader finding out in the first few pages that a Mr. Watson has been gunned down by his neighbors. The author then spends the rest of the book telling the events that led up to this through a dozen or so points of view. That is, through the eyes of just about every gender, race, class, and grudge in the Ten Thousand Islands, save that of E. J. Watson himself. In linear terms, the story deals with the gradual accumulation of evidence of Watson’s guilt – the killings, disappearances, and dark rumors that eventually turn his neighbors to fear and kill him. But the actual telling of the story is much more interesting; the characters doubt themselves and each other, their prejudices and allegiances lead them to ignore what they shouldn’t, and every person in the islands interprets Mr. Watson’s actions and supposed actions just a bit differently. It’s a fascinating story that is perfectly told.I’m reserving a star from my rating due to Book Two, which skips forward to the 1920s and ‘30s and examines Watson’s son Lucius as he attempts to clear his father’s name. It has plenty of merit, but it’s slower and lacks the menacing immediacy of the first book. But while the atmosphere is lacking a bit, the examination of a son’s desire to believe the best of his father in the face of overwhelming popular opinion to the contrary is interesting. The Third Book was also not quite up the standard of the first, but it was very good. The final book is reserved for the infamous Watson’s own point of view, from his violent childhood to his violent death. It is intriguing to see his perspective and to get an authorized version of the events of his life, although seeing things through his eyes did not always clear up matters of fault and guilt as much as one might expect. I think most people are sympathetic to their own stories, and Edgar Watson is no different. He wanted to be happy, he saw a fair amount of good in himself, and he saw himself as honestly regretful over much of what he directly or indirectly caused to happen around him. There are probably some readers who saw him as a man more sinned against than sinning – a victim of abuse with bad stars and an adolescent head injury that let his id permanently out to play. My own interpretation was that he was a textbook sociopath, with all the ironic charm and intelligence and horror the label implies.This was an excellent book all around, and I would very much recommend it. It’ll knock your socks off.

  • Tony
    2019-06-20 10:05

    Wow.Shadow Country is a searing dissection of turn of the century (circa 1880-1910) Everglades culture, history and character. The focal character is E.J. Watson, sugar cane planter, innovator, patriarch, murderer, and victim. The novel is comprised of three 'books', all telling the story of the death of Watson from separate points of view: first, various people who witnessed and assessed the events at the time; second, one of Watson's sons, trying (maybe) to reconstruct Watson's life and crimes; and third, Watson himself. Matthiessen originally wrote this as three separate novels at the insistence of his publisher. (I never read the originals). Shadow Country combines them, with some reworking, and, like the melding of the five 'books' in 2666, the result is breathtaking. You'd think that telling the same story three times in a 900-page book would be annoying, a waste of time. However, it is precisely the three distinct views which give this novel its greatness.Matthiessen confronts racism head-on and doesn't water it down with notions of traditional Southern justifications. He writes that there is "death among us" and shovels plenty of it. E.J. Watson is a full participant. Yet, Matthiessen teaches that the human mind and soul are complex, that judgements and actions can be situational, except, of course, when they are not. In one man, Watson, we see all of it: the history, family, lust, brutality, tenderness and many, many misunderstandings. For all of the horror in this book, there is also much humor thanks to exceptional dialogue which Matthiessen paints in a dialect that he clearly captured.My only criticism is that Matthiessen gratuitously throws in some brief environmental rant, gratuitous because it's out of place from the storyline. It's just a sentence or two, and nowhere near as distracting as Hugo's 100 page historical tangent in Les Miserables. Perhaps I shouldn't even have mentioned it. I don't know if this is The Great American Novel but it certainly is a great American novel. It even has some baseball in it, Mr. Roth.

  • Brad Lyerla
    2019-05-26 01:59

    The historical Edgar J. Watson (1855-1910) was a drunken murderer, bully, philanderer, cheat and conniving so and so. He was a pioneering settler of the southwest coast of Florida in the final decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.He had an out-sized reputation as a desperado. He was thought to have killed Belle Starr, the Oklahoma territory outlaw, and was the subject of a dime store novel based on the legend of her demise. Although he was never charged, it seems clear that he murdered a young couple to prevent them from homesteading property to which he thought he had a prior claim. He was charged with murdering two men, one of whom had married Watson’s cousin, because they were selling off land that Watson thought belonged to his family and should remain a part of his descendants’ inheritance. Although acquitted of these murders, it is likely that the trial was fixed and the jury bribed. Watson also was believed to have murdered workers hired to farm his lands rather than pay them when pay day arrived at the end of the harvest.Despite all of this, Watson was popular with many of his neighbors and regarded as a forward-thinking and hard working farmer. He built the largest sugar cane processing operation in southwest Florida in his day. His syrup was considered of the highest quality. He was charismatic and made friends readily. He had political connections in the state capital and was thought of as a leading citizen in his region. His were frontier times in southwest Florida and he was a man of local influence who enjoyed a veneer of respectability despite a whispered reputation for wickedness.In short, he was a dangerous enigma.In the 1990s, Peter Matthiessen published three novels based on Watson’s life. The books were well-received by the critics and public alike. But Matthiessen originally had conceived of the books as a unified work and was not satisfied with the trilogy format in which the books were published. In the 2000s, Matthiessen reworked his Watson books into a new single volume, modifying extensively, with the hope of achieving a unified and integrated book. The new book was published as SHADOW COUNTRY in 2008, and it won the National Book Award.I did not like it as much as I expected to.My main complaint is that SHADOW COUNTRY remains three separate books, even after Mathiessen’s reworking. That alone, might not be a deal killer, but the second two books are not as good as the first. And that did kill the deal for me.What do I mean that SHADOW COUNTRY remains three books? It’s pretty simple. Although now published inside the same cover, the three novels separately published in the 1990s are designated Book I, Book II and Book III of SHADOW COUNTRY. More importantly, each is distinctly different in important ways. Book I, originally published as KILLING MR. WATSON, is told through first person narratives of twelve witnesses whose accounts are realistically inconsistent with one another. The reader is left to piece together and evaluate the competing accounts so as to understand what drove Watson’s neighbors to turn against him, leading thirty or so of them to confront and kill Watson on Chokoloskee Island in the spring of 1910. Book I is brilliant and an absolute pleasure to read.Book II, originally published as LOST MAN’S RIVER, is told in a traditional third person narrative. It recounts the life of Watson’s favorite son, Lucius Watson, who returns from World War I, and makes it his life’s work to uncover why his father was killed. Lucias' motives are ambiguous. Is it his goal to exact revenge or to rehabilitate his father’s sullied reputation? The tone, the method of narration and the diffuse and meandering story line in Book II are unlike anything to be found in Book I and do not measure up to the wonderful writing of Book I. Book III, originally BONE BY BONE, is told in the first person by Watson himself. It turns out that Watson has a split personality. Yes, it’s true. His dual nature is explained by the device of a multiple personality disorder. There is Edgar Watson, who is essentially decent, hard working and admirable. Then there is Jack Watson, who is a murderous psychopath. They coexist uneasily in the heart and mind of Edgar J. Watson. Of course! And how disappointing. Reading Book III is like reading the chapters in one of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport novels where Sandford features his villain. In those books, the villain invariably is a lunatic suffering psychological maladies that are so exaggerated that nothing like them ever occurs in real life. That literary trick is fun in Sandford, but unworthy in SHADOW COUNTRY. I almost did not finish Book III because of it.My recommendation is to read KILLING MR. WATSON. It is tight and plausible. A joy to read. But proceed further at your own risk. The final two books fail to carry the weight of the first.

  • Sue
    2019-06-01 03:46

    The fact that I read "Shadow Country" over a long period of time should not be taken as a negative reflection on the book, but I suppose my rating hints at that. This is a masterpiece, but one I chose to read slowly with breaks after each section. The story of Mister Watson, which begins on the last day of his life, is full of turn of the 20th century life, details of frontier life I'd never heard of before---that frontier being Florida. Edgar Watson is many things to many people, but he is always controversial. No one seems to really know him except possibly his second wife. But no one is neutral about him, probably even today. Mayhem and death seem to have stalked him from childhood on.This novel presents us with a variety of views of what occurred in October, 1910 and invites us to ponder what happened, what motivated the men and women involved, how history and fiction meet somewhere in the middle.Edgar Watson, himself, is the narrator (or apologist) of the third and final section of the novel and gives an accounting of his life. At one point he displays a moment of insight: "Some would say that Edgar Watson is a bad man by nature. Ed Watson is the man I was created. If I was created evil, somebody better hustle off to church, take it up with God. I don't believe a man is born with a bad nature.I enjoy folks, most of 'em. But it's true I drinktoo much in my black moods, see only threats and enmity on every side. and in that darkness I strike too fast, and by the time I come clear, trouble has caught up with me again." (p 806)But this insight becomes warped as it is spoken/thought. Who is this man who likes other people but also strikes out at them so easily? You really should read this book to find out. It is well worth the time spent.Another, quite wonderful, review by a fellow member of OTSLT, Mike Sullivan, can be found at I recommend checking it out for some great photos and historical information.

  • Tim
    2019-06-07 08:04

    892 pages. Peter Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard; The Tree where Man was Born; At Play in the Fields of the Lord). I shake my head.I don't think I've come across a book where the writing was so apparently brilliant - disciplined and careful, dialogue true to each character, imaginative - while the subject matter was so unrelentingly raw, rough, and dark. At the end of the read, I was both in awe of this writer's command of storytelling, and fearful of where he might be in his view of the world at age 84.Originally called the "Watson Trilogy," the 1500 page manuscript was published as three well received separate books. But Matthiessen was never completely happy with the result, and returned to rewrite and condense the story into this rendering. He describes the book as "interwoven variations of the evolution of a legend." The main character of this story is E.J. Watson - an outlaw, entrepreneur, patriarch, and general force of the SW Florida peninsula in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He lived during the times of great slaughter of Everglade birds for their plumage, just as the Everglades was either to be drained and converted to sugar plantations or general development or protected as eventually it was. Book one - the Killing of Mr Watson - is told from a third person voice, and describes the general rough, squalid, frontier living (poverty of spirit and body comes to mind) in the swamps of Florida. Mr Watson with a couple sets of offspring by a string of wives, has a past with murky crimes attributed to him, and a large network of allies and enemies. Eventually Watson is confronted and killed by a mob of settlers at some lone trading post for a culmination of past excesses that no one can clearly explain, but for the necessity of executing justice.Book two makes a huge shift. Still in third person, it is from the viewpoint of Lucius Watson, one of EJ's sons. Lucius as a young boy was not present at his father's killing, but after gaining an education as Florida built its institutions, sets out to interview all the acquaintances of his father in order to write a definitive account of his life and abrupt ending. The broad theme of book two is how a legacy and violent act affects the next generation.Just when one thinks that is a satisfying story, he realizes there is still another 1/3 of the pages left. Book three emerges with just as big a shift as before. This time it is EJ Watson himself in the first person, describing his life from a young boy with an abusive father, living in South Carolina in the fearsome days of rubble after the Civil War, the failed years of reconstruction and the beginnings of Jim Crow laws. EJ describes events that the reader thought had been clear from the original narrative, as well as the remembrances investigated by the son, but clearly all have their take. All in all, an amazing tour of a lifetime told three different ways.Which leads back to the writing and superb discipline Mathiessen shows. Each of the 25-30 characters is kept true to their view of life, vocabulary, bias's, and standing as friend, enemy, daughter son, wives, etc. Matthiessen flows from inner thoughts to bemused observations of the absurdities of humans, foibles and forces of development are described equally with elegance. History, and nature are "meticulously researched" (as one reviewer notes) and woven into the story. But the subject matter - racism, rough justice or simple violence for no reason one can fathom, small vision, inbreeding, degradation - seems nearly unrelenting.The reader is left wondering how did "we" ever rise from this pool of dissolution? Why did Matthiessen describe so dark a world, when clearly there were other visions and lives being led at the time of honesty, elevation, and sacrifice? For that matter, what possessed this author to go back and rewrite a story - no matter how brilliantly - that had found acceptance by his loyal readership and critics.A true dilemma: is a prospective reader willing to spend hours in the dark, dark side of human nature and the true costs of "progress" in order to enjoy first hand how a gifted author can showcase various voices, generational viewpoints, and a deep understanding of natural and historical forces at work.

  • Oscar
    2019-06-24 05:01

    ‘País de sombras’ (Shadow Country, 2005), de Peter Mattiessen incluye juntas las tres novelas que forman la Trilogía Watson: ‘Killing Mister Watson’ (1990), ‘Lost Man’s River’ (1997) y ‘Bone by Bone’ (1999). Matthiessen decidió en 2005 publicarlas como un todo, ante la evidente estructura interna común. De esta manera ya no se trata de tres novelas independientes, sino de un todo que las entrelaza. Cada una de las partes sirve de complemento a la anterior, transformando la perspectiva del lector. ‘País de sombras’ ganó el Nacional Book Award, algo que fue motivo de una cierta polémica ante la idoneidad del premio. La excelente traducción al español corre a cargo de Javier Calvo, que en palabras suyas en su blog, se trata de la más larga e intensa de toda mi carrera, y a la que dedicó todo un año.‘País de sombras’ narra la historia de Edgar J. Watson, un pionero que en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX se instaló en las pantanosas tierras de Florida con el fin de cultivar tierras y expandirse. Watson fue un personaje real, con una personalidad violenta, y sospechoso de numerosos delitos y asesinatos, al que se le apodó como Sanguinario Watson. El libro se abre con un sobrecogedor prólogo en el que Watson es abatido a tiros por sus vecinos. A partir de aquí, Matthiessen nos ofrece las diferentes facetas de este controvertido personaje, en un juego de sombras en el que lector ha de componer su propia visión, el porqué de este linchamiento.En la primera parte, País de sombras, se nos muestran los testimonios de algunos de los implicados en el asesinato de Watson, cada uno con su particular visión de los hechos. Las opiniones son diversas, y van desde los que lo odiaban y lo calificaban de sanguinario, un tipo sin escrúpulos, hasta los que lo veían como alguien siempre dispuesto a echar una mano. Esta parte, entre testimonios de familiares y testigos, es excelente, y aporta un retrato directo del personaje.En la segunda parte, El río Lost Man, es uno de los hijos de Watson el que toma las riendas de la narración. Lucius Watson vive angustiado y obsesionado por la muerte de su padre, y desea conocer la verdad sobre su vida. Para ello se embarca en una odisea personal a través de los paisajes, escenarios y personas de su niñez, siempre persiguiendo la verdad, para conformar la biografía de su padre. Al mismo tiempo, deberá hacer frente a sus conflictos personales y familiares, así como a diversos peligros.En la tercera y última parte, Hueso a hueso, es el propio Edgar J. Watson quien, en primera persona, contará su historia, desde la niñez a su muerte. Aunque al lector siempre le quedan dudas sobre la veracidad de los hechos.‘País de sombras’ es una obra ambiciosa, un asombroso retrato de muerte y crueldad, conflictos raciales y culturales, segregación e integración, explotación urbanística y oda al medio ambiente, de sombras huidizas y verdades subjetivas. Pero también se hace evidente el cansancio del lector, sobre todo en la última parte, ya que llega exhausto y fatigado, tanto por el número de páginas como al conocer los hechos sobradamente y tener que volver a leer sobre los mismos. Aun así, se trata de una muy buena novela.

  • Melody
    2019-06-24 08:48

    Shadow Country is actually three books rewritten and meant to be read together to get the whole story of Edgar J. Watson. He was a real plantation owner, one of the early settlers in the area now known as the Everglades. There are many rumors about his life and his death. This book is the fictionalized account of the myths and truths of the man and his family. It’s a damn long book and sometimes I didn’t care if I got the truth. But that was mainly because I was ready to move on to something else. I already knew how and when he was going to get killed because I had already read (although a long time ago) Killing Mister Watson. The first part of the trilogy, Killing Mister Watson is his story told from many points of view. From his daughter, his neighbors, his relatives. It’s an account of what they knew or what they thought they knew about what E.J. Watson did or did not do, about who he was and who he killed; about his good qualities and about his bad. The second book tells how one of his sons sets out to find out the truth about his father. He seeks out some of these same eye witnesses to get a retelling of his father’s story with hopes of learning something new; something that will show that his father was a good man and not a killer.Book III is Edgar’s story. He fills in details others left out. He confirms and denies. He admits and he confesses. He justifies and he excuses. He is just as dead at the end.You get the story of the taming or raping of south Florida. You see the beautiful wildlife hunted and shot just for sport or to ironically satisfy America’s love of beauty. You see justification of the powerful “land owner” doing whatever he has to do to get people to do dangerous, hard, labor for little or no pay. You see politicians playing their games to advance themselves or someone they consider an equal or an asset to their climb. An epic, that’s what it is. Nothing is really answered. You just get a good hard look at his story and the story of this time in our American History. And at the end of each account Mister Watson still is full of bullets.

  • Blake
    2019-05-30 05:09

    I am usually not a fan of National Book Award winners. And after reading Marilynne Robinson's "Home," I didn't think anything could top it. But they got it right this year. Matthiessen's trilogy is a book that (if I know anything about myself) will haunt me for a long time. It is one of the ten best novels I've ever read, and (as most of you know) I don't take ranking's lightly.Of the three novels, I am fondest of the first--formerly published as Killing Mister Watson. Matthiessen's vernacular is challenging, but true. If you didn't know better, you would guess that it were written by William Faulkner. In the end, the jumble of stories establishes a nice first draft of the trilogy's entire narrative. But this narrative gets revised and then revised again in the second and third novels.The middle book especially appeals to me as an historian. It raises all the questions that historians grapple with everyday: what obligations do we have toward our subjects? how do our subjectivities shape the (his)stories we write? etc. The middle section of this book is the only moment when Matthiessen loses coherence. But in a 1,000 page tome, that is bound to happen once or twice, right? In this novel, Henry Short (not the main character--that is Mr. Watson--but the "best supporting character") emerges as one of the most complicated and compelling characters I've ever read.Novel #3 lets us into all of the little crevices that remain from the first two novels. Key events are totally recast. We are forced to choose our heroes/villians--often with equal amounts of evidence on both sides.Reading "Shadow Country" takes patience and time. But this was a great first book of the new year.

  • William1
    2019-06-23 03:04

    I read Killing Mr Watson when it was published in the early 1990s, but did not realize then how much William Faulkner's Snopes Trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion) was a major model for Mathiessen. There are a number of similarities between the works. First and foremost is the use of multiple first-person narrators speaking in dialect. Dialect in narration is notorious for slowing the reader down, since one usually has to spend time sounding out each phoneme. That's not the case here. And I've yet to figure out how Mathiessen does it. The themes early on are the numinous landscape, which is exquisitely rendered, man's thoughtless depredations upon it, and race.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-06-05 08:54

    I don't think I'll say I've abandoned this forever, but I definitely didn't finish it in January. It was the phenomenon that the farther in I got, the farther the end grew.

  • Rick
    2019-06-17 07:06

    Shadow Country (2008) is a re-rendering of Matthiessen’s three volume Mister Watson series, Killing Mr. Watson (1990), Lost Man’s River (1997), and Bone by Bone (1999). On Charlie Rose and elsewhere, Matthiessen has pointed out that the work began as one very large novel, so large in fact that he chopped it into three to facilitate its publication, only he didn’t feel right about the separation so he went back to work on it to make it work as a single volume novel. He cut and he rewrote over several years; but the three parts of Shadow Country still follow the three novels in that the first is a kind of oral history describing the shooting of Edgar Watson by a score of his neighbors one late afternoon in 1910. Except for a brief but magnificent prologue, part one is a brilliant quilt of first person accounts from Watson’s family, neighbors, friends, and enemies. It’s breathtakingly well-done.The second part is a more conventional third person narrative, picking up the Watson tale from the wake of the shooting into the succeeding decades as Watson’s son tries to figure out the truth of the event. It is the one not fully successful section, though it has many moments of great writing and storytelling.The third part is Watson’s own narrative, so a single first person narrative. It is almost as good as the first part and damn compelling, particularly given that you know all the primary events, in fact, you’ve heard them one way or another at least twice before. So why a thrice-told tale? Watson is a real figure, if a minor one, of American history. He was born in South Carolina, moved, following a death or two ascribed to him, to Florida for a spell until trouble there forced him into Indian Country (Oklahoma) where even in the outlaw ridden territory he found himself in and out of trouble. Mostly in. He and a black outlaw named Frank Reese escape from an Arkansas prison. Eventually both men end up back in Florida. It’s Gulf Coast Florida, south of Tampa to the Glades. Wild, racist backcountry. Rife with opportunity, blood feuds, and hurricanes. Watson fascinates Matthiessen. He is a pioneer, a killer, a farmer, a family man, a failed dreamer of grand schemes. He is killed in the first six pages of Shadow Country so there is no mystery there, not who gets killed or who kills him. Even why is pretty clear: his neighbors were scared to death of him; their nerves rattled by an historic hurricane and three or more murdered bodies turning up at the Watson place. Matthiessen, though, is curious about bigger whys and hows. He is fascinated by the many kinds of brutality that make up America’s past and therefore built its present. The role of greed, violence, race, heroism, nature. The costs of civilization in humanity and to the landscape and waterways. He is also fascinated by the difference between facts and truth, between history and legend, and knowing and not-knowing. He respects the rough and tumble of reality; the awful beauty of wilderness and the hard people attracted to it. His eye and ear for detail have no equal among American writers—whether that detail is of speech or place, sight or sound. Part one is perfect; part three nearly so. Part two is a shotgun blast that hits its target but does so messily. Taken together (and add in Matthiessen’s Far Tortuga and At Play in the Fields of the Lord), Matthiessen deserves to be considered a master of American fiction. Throw in his rich and diverse body of non-fiction and you have to wonder why, despite his several honors (one National Book Award, three or more nominations) and the obvious respect of generations of peers (Styron, Heller, Bellow, Oates, Pynchon, Dillard, Ford, and many others) Matthiessen is not more universally esteemed. Soon perhaps.

  • Max
    2019-06-26 03:09

    I enjoyed this thoroughly absorbing historical novel which is similar in some ways to those by E. L. Doctorow. However, while skillfully written, Shadow Country does not reach the artistic excellence of Invisible Man or All the King’s Men, a comparison made by The New York Review of Books.Matheissen provides a fascinating look at late 19th and early 20th century SW Florida, particularly the everglades and Ten Thousand Islands region. We get details on the flora, fauna, and early settlers. We get a chilling recap of the treatment of blacks following reconstruction in the South. We get a peek into the Indian territories, north central Florida and even a bit of Indian history. All of this is fed to us around the story of E J Watson, an abused child and a hard drinking violent adult. Regrettably, Mathiessen’s fitting in so much natural and cultural history creates many digressions from the central theme, the Watson legend. The running social and environmental commentary detracts from Watson’s deeply human personal story. Mathiessen’s recounting of the many crimes against blacks and insults to the environment offer valuable insights, but they become repetitive, a little preachy and after 900 pages a bit stale. The three books comprising the novel are done in different styles. The first book uses the multiple narrator approach that Faulkner used in As I lay Dying. I like this style and the way Mathiessen executes it, although Shadow Country cannot be compared to Faulkner’s powerful allegory with its masterful symbolism and deep psychological insights. Unfortunately that style is dropped in the second book in which we follow around E J Watson’s son, Lucius, as he researches his father’s life. This format is far less engaging. The information Lucius collects would have been better presented by narrators in the first book. The third book is a first person recounting from E J Watson himself, giving us the story from a third perspective reminding me of what Lawrence Durrell did in Alexandria Quartet. Watson is hardworking, but ruthless, calculating and cruel with little regard for others’ lives, let alone their feelings. His occasional acts of humanity are far outweighed by his brutality. But Watson’s unemotional and thoughtful telling of his story seems to belie his personality. Partly this is due to Mathiessen’s having Watson include so many historical details irrelevant to the major issues he faces. But mostly it is the incongruity between the way Watson thinks and the way he acts. For example Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment not only acts like an abusive criminal but thinks with the same crazy intensity. In contrast, Watson’s thoughts sounds more like the author speaking to us than the evil Watson, thus we have a nice Doctorow like novel rather than a brilliant Dostoevsky like one.With all that said I learned a lot from Mathiessen and am glad I read this book. However don’t look for the psychological intensity Ellison gives us in his wonderful Invisible Man nor the beautiful prose that paints Louisiana and its people that Warren gives us in All the King’s Men. Very few novels can stand up to such comparisons. Readers with an interest in Florida history, an appreciation of the environment and the intractable problem of race relations in the US will all find their time well spent in Shadow Country.

  • Scott Munden
    2019-06-26 07:05

    Someone, somewhere wrote about “Shadow Country” that “this is it… the ‘Great American Novel.’” It made me think about the never ending discourse surrounding the GAN, which has always struck me as somewhat odd. It’s one part Holy Grail quest and the other part a reflection of America’s unease – at least where art is concerned – that its achievements just might not be good enough. I’ve never bothered paying too much attention to the discourse since I've never trusted categories that contain the word "great" in them. There's always something a little elitist about what goes in to making something "great" and the inductees are more often than not completely expected, with bloated reputations and little to truly recommend them. So, it's from this bias that I approached the hefty trilogy "Shadow Country" and, I have to admit that it didn't take long for the words "Great American Novel" to start echoing through my skeptical brain. It is a monumental work. An author could retire and live off the literary kudos, so deserved, after publishing this gorgeous work of fiction.I read the novel compulsively. There is so much here of interest. It's rich in characters. Its plot touches on the key themes of American history with intelligence, compassion and no pedantry. Upon completing the novel, I wondered why I hadn't done so sooner in life but it's probably for the best. As I get older, I'm realizing that there are certain books that should be left for my later years. "Shadow Country" may be one of these.

  • Andrea
    2019-06-13 06:46

    Peter Mathiessen has taken his Watson trilogy novels and rewritten them into a gigantic work of obsessive brilliance.I was absolutely enthralled by the convergence of perspectives in this story of the infamous Mr. Watson. For those who didn't know, Watson really existed. A pioneering Everglades planter with a shady background, he was murdered by a mob of his friends and neighbors in Chokoloskee, Florida in the early 19oo's. This novel is not so much a fictionalised account of the events, but an inspired exploration of all aspects and versions of the legend. While all of the places, most of the names and many of the events are based on facts, the themes developed by Mathiessen are more literary than historical. The history provides the backdrop of a turbulent time and place in the U.S. frontier of the last century against which Watson's own story is peeled off, patiently and obsessively, revealing with each layer elements of characters' (and society's) hypocrisy, hope, desperation, ambition, greed, jealousy, cruelty, self-destruction, and just about everything else human nature has to offer.As a prolific writer of books on nature, Mathiessen is especially gifted in rendering details of the singular environment of the Everglades swamps. You may find yourself swatting mosquitos as you read, which only enhances a reading experience that is a bit demanding -almost 900 pages and an initially confusing number of characters- but most definitely worth it!

  • Karen
    2019-05-27 06:59

    3 books(2 stars, 2 stars, and 4 stars) rewritten into 1 long book. The 1st book sets up the tragic fiction character and is a tedious read with a lot of characters that are difficult to remember. The 2nd book is less tedious but also less entertaining. The 3rd book brings it all together; the fiction story that is used to bring in the history, and the total tragedy of the character, Florida, and the country as a whole. The story incorporates the sad, uneducated Scots and other poor whites that immigrated to the Islands on the west coast of Florida and their raping of the land. Also includes the horrible treatment of the black (with some reference to the devastation of the Indian) people with details of their lack of real freedom if not worse than before the war including the ramification caused by President Hayes pulling out and leaving them to flounder under the prejudice, poverty, and lynching’s, etc. It progresses to the destruction of the land by the Industrialists/capitalists and their horrible treatment of the poor whites and blacks. It includes how the corrupt legal, political, and overall government is not for the progress of all people but only for a few industrialists and politicians and also how the policies extend to other countries for the sake of money (e.g. Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines). The 3rd book brings all of these together using the fiction characters story.

  • Tim
    2019-06-03 08:05

    "Shadow Country" is one of those books I describe as "nearly great." (For our purposes here, that would translate to 4.5 stars if the rating system allowed). I owned the first book in the original trilogy that this book distills/subtracts from/adds upon, but never read it. I suspect I'm not missing a lot, as good as this novel is.Matthiessen comes at the story of turn-of-the-century southwest Florida legend Edgar Watson from all angles -- in Book I, first-person narratives that don't include Watson; in Book II, one of his sons researches the legend; in Book III, Watson tells his own story. As Matthiessen presents it (and he should know as well as anyone), Watson's reputed bloodthirstiness was greatly exaggerated and resulted mostly from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.Matthiessen described the second book of the original trilogy as (I'm paraphrasing from memory) the saggy middle of one of those wiener dogs. That's still the case in this re-imagining. Book II occasionally drags, and the motivations of some of the characters aren't always clear.Although "Shadow Country" consists of 892 pages of coming at the same events from different angles, he writes so very well that most readers of high literature will be riveted. I was. This is like more-accessible Faulkner.

  • Kathy Ahn
    2019-06-18 01:44

    I really loved this book. I didn't know anything about the Watson legend before I started reading it, but it didn't matter. It's formatted as a trilogy so you hear mostly the same story from different points of view -- when I say it like that it sounds repetitive, but Matthiessen did a good job of not making it laborious. In fact, each of the three major parts gives you more information about the story you heard in the section before.Edgar Watson, I guess true to what they say about his real life self, was a completely fascinating character. Gentle and charming sometimes, and mostly a feared killer the rest of the time with a penchant for moonshine and prone to violent moods, but I found him to be a sympathetic character throughout the novel.Matthiessen's descriptions of the Everglades are rich and evocative, and pretty heartbreaking at times too when you read about how much killing was going on. I thought his writing was beautiful and his skilled use of language brought all his various characters alive and breathing for me.

  • Sridhar
    2019-06-24 10:09

    An exceedingly well-written book on a spectacular canvas. I liked everything about it, the cover, the feel, the cadence of the writing, the undercurrents of history, both ecological and human. A brilliant portrayal of a story from at least three different angles, corresponding to the three books packed into this reworked edition: as the neighbours and workers see Watson, as his son Lucius sets out to discover with brother Rob about their father, as his own story. Despite the ~900 page length, I ended up wanting more, perhaps wishing he had not sliced away from his original three books to create this one. Tragic and hard-hitting, without compromising the story-telling or the characterisation, it is a commentary on politics and democracy, racism and slavery, developmental 'progress' and environmental plunder, and on being American, then as now.

  • Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
    2019-06-11 09:52

    Read this novel! Absolutely fascinating account of life along the Florida Everglades gulf coast and development in the late-19th and early-20th centuries through the eyes and actions of the real-life character of Edgar Watson. This is one of those rare novels where it is truly difficult to sort out your own feelings for the plot's main protagonist. Sometimes you love him, and sometimes he is a real bastard. Just like like each of us, Edgar is a flawed character; and Mattiesson invests much of the book explaining why and how Edgar became this way.Matthiesson is also an accomplished environmental writer and throughout this book one is constantly reading about the beauty and danger of life along the Florida Gulf Coast and in the Everglades. He describes the landscape, the habitats, and the myriad of species, the biting insects, lack of freshwater, periodic hurricanes, and so forth that people had to deal with on a daily basis. Also, I didn't realize it until I read this novel, but Florida, even in the late-19th century, was largely a lawless wild-eyed dog-eat-dog frontier that rivaled parts of the American west. This is also a hard-hitting novel that presents an unvarnished look at the rampant racism that festered in the southeastern United States following the Civil War, and its impact on the blacks, whites, and Native Americans. Painful to read, and even more painful to realize that some things still haven't changed.This novel was awarded the National Book Award for fiction in 2008, and it is richly deserved. Interestingly, "Shadow Country" is Matthiesson's efforts--successful, I might add--to revisit his trilogy ("Killing Mister Watson," "Lost Man's River," and "Bone by Bone" and combine them into a cohesive single novel. Each book brings a different point-of-view associated with the death of the novel's main protagonist, Edgar Watson. The first book presents the points of view, as a series of little vignettes, of all of the people that lived with him in an around Chokoloskee Bay on the Everglades coast. The second book is the story of Watson's son, Lucius, as he tries to unravel the real story behind his father's killing. The final book in the novel is the first person account from Edgar Watson himself. Taken as a whole it is a fascinating literary technique that works very, very well. "Shadow Country" is a modern-day "Moby Dick" and a truly great and important American novel.

  • Aaron Million
    2019-06-13 01:44

    Matthiessen's work here is really three books rolled into one. He rewrote his earlier Watson trilogy, and combined all three aspects into one book. Despite this, he labels the three distinct parts as Books I, II, and III. Book I is a culmination of diary entries/deposition-type statements by many of the people that came into contact with Edgar Watson in SW Florida, with many of the people being the ones who participated in the mass shooting/lynching that ended Watson's life. Book II is about the search by Watson's son Lucius to learn the truth about his not only his father's death, but also an attempt to dispel (or prove) the rumors that followed his father throughout his life. Book III is Edgar Watson's first person narrative about his life from childhood up to his death.This is well-written, and I can see why it won a National Book Award. Of the three Books, I enjoyed Book II the most - I found it to be the most suspense-filled of the three arching storylines. Book I started slow because it was difficult for me to adjust to reading semi-literate English (as many of the people back then probably did truly talk) and because the narration constantly changed. But Matthiessen writes so well and so lucidly that I quickly became enveloped in the story. I liked Book III the least - probably because everything had already occurred in Book I, and even though it was from a different perspective, I felt a sense of anti-climax after finishing Book II, then having to literally go back to the very beginning of Watson's life and redo everything over again. I understand why Matthiessen structured it the way that he did - to give Watson the last word and to stand on their heads many of those rumors that swirled around him. But I thought it was disjointed when considered with Books I and II. I would have preferred Book II to have been last, with Book III either being first or second, preferably first. If I had to rate Book I alone, I would give it four stars; Book II, five stars, and Book III, three and a half stars. Therefore, the overall rating is four stars. Grade: B+

  • Nicole
    2019-06-10 05:45

    This book is a masterpiece, but don't trust this ordinary reader. Just look at the book jacket and read the quotes from such luminaries as Oates, Bellow, and Dillard. They are in awe of this book and so am I. You'd think that a book which begins with the story's climax--the murder of its protagonist--wouldn't be able to keep you interested for nearly 900 pages. In fact, I lugged this book around everywhere and read it whenever I had a moment to spare. I did not want it to end. The author's note articulates Matthiessen's own epic journey as a writer, rewriting and editing this saga. I found reading it very helpful as it provided insight as to why a writer would rewrite and reframe a story that had already been succesfully published. This is, without a doubt, one of the most substantive and ambitious books I have ever read. It so chock full of narrative information and visual description that I found myself rereading chapters just to be able to absorb it all. The language is beautiful which is also what keeps you hypnotized as a reader. The one characteristic I would point out--to you women out there--is that this book is really about men and the male psyche. Although there are many female characters, their characters are not really explored in great depth. You have to read Joyce Carol Oates or Harriet Simpson Arnow for that. On the other hand, the shifting perspectives in the book are surprising and satisfying. In the first book, each chapter is told from a different character's point of view; the second book is told from the son's point of view; and, the third and most riveting book is related from the main character's point of view. Highly original and engaging. It is a magnificent achievement.

  • Guille
    2019-06-20 10:10

    Mientras leía esta novela me he preguntado muchas veces qué es lo que tiene para que me guste tanto. No es la primera vez que me pregunto estas cosas, claro, y la mayoría de las veces sigo sin saber responderme. No sé exactamente qué debe tener una forma de narrar para que me llegue más profundamente que otras; es más, no siempre me gustan todos los libros de un autor, aunque el estilo sea el mismo o casi el mismo. Lo que sí suele pasar es lo contrario, vamos, que cuando un autor no me llega, da igual lo que me cuente.En este fantástico libro veía las palabras que forman las frases, las frases enlazadas en párrafos, los párrafos en capítulos y me parecía simple, fácil y maravilloso, como ver jugar al barsa de Guardiola. Hay autores en los que la forma es llamativa, un estilo peculiar, inconfundible; que te llegue o no ya es otra cosa. Pero en este libro, como me ha pasado en muchos otros (recientemente con Stoner, por ejemplo), no llego a percibir esa forma especial, que, sin embargo, me atrapa cada vez más a medida que avanzo en su lectura. Por supuesto, lo que cuenta, la trama de la novela, y lo que dice a raíz de lo que cuenta, tienen parte de culpa. Estamos ante un libro de esos que dicen de frontera, enmarcado en un territorio sin ley, o, lo que es lo mismo, donde impera la ley de la naturaleza, en el que no cabe la compasión ni la debilidad, donde los ataques preventivos son la mejor defensa, y en el que será mejor que siempre seas consciente de quién tienes a la espalda. Es un libro sobre el fatalismo, sobre ese irremediable y fatal desenlace que causa la coincidencia de un temperamento incendiario, unas condiciones adversas y la mala suerte y del que no se puede escapar.

  • Caroline
    2019-06-10 09:11

    This book is based on the true story of a Florida planter and outlaw, E.J. Watson, who was murdered by his neighbours; it was originally a trilogy and Matthiessen reworked and condensed it to produce this version. It was entirely an accident that I ended up reading this whilst in Florida, given that it's set in the Florida back-country at the turn of the century. It really seemed to add to the atmosphere, being in and around the same places mentioned in the book, smelling the mangrove swamps and seeing the Spanish moss hanging from the branches. You can even visit Ted Smallwood's store - kinda wish I had now.It's a wonderful read, given that the entire plot hinges around an event that takes place in the first ten pages of the novel. It's still broken down in structure into three books, one that covers the murder itself and the reactions and viewpoints of those taking part in it, the other following Watson's son Lucius as he tries to discover the truth about that night, and the final book from Watson's perspective covering his entire life up to the murder.Watson is a compelling character - given that he's really not a nice man at all, it's strangely hard to hate him. And when you come to the end of the book and the story's over (although it's over from the start for Watson) you're sad to leave him, in a way. But that's part of the strength of this book - there are no villains as much as there are no heroes, and Matthiessen manages to make you feel sympathy and understanding for almost every character, regardless of where they stand and what they've done. It's quite an achievement, but then this is quite a book.

  • William Ramsay
    2019-06-24 04:53

    Shadow Country won the National Book award this year, but I don't think it should have. The book is a rewrite of three novels Matthiessen published about 30 years ago. He claims he dropped about 400 pages from the original, but in my mind 400 was not enough. The book could easily have been about half as long as it is (over 900 pages).The story revolves around one E.J.Watson who was a planter in the Florida keys with a storied, violent past. Out of fear of him, his neighbors one day assassinate him as he comes into town. I'm giving nothing away since this happens in the first few pages of the book. The rest of the novel is dedicated to trying to figure out whether he was the monster everyone took him to be. It's told in three sections; one a description of what his neighbors saw and believed, one where his son tries to establish his innocence, and a third where he tells his own story. At least I think that was the third story because by then I found the constant repetition of theme so boring I gave up on it.The writing is very good and the description of the everglades is outstanding. (What a horrible place to live). It's the story that's the problem. I have lost faith in the National Book award. The last few years it has picked books that are pretentious but boring. For instance, in 2007 Tree of Smoke won against And Then We Came To The End. I did not read Tree because of the terrible reviews it got on Amazon. The End was my favorite book last year. I guess the NBA has become like the Oscars far more interested in the politics of it all than in quality.

  • Albert
    2019-06-18 02:09

    A long novel. Same story told three times from three different perspectives. Main character, E. J. Watson, is a really bad guy that you really want (almost) to like. This is a third iteration of this story. The first try was a single novel of over 1,500 pages that didn’t get published. Next try: published as three separate novels. Third try: recomposed as a single novel, whittled down to approximately 900 pages, and wins the Pulitzer Prize. I liked reading about E.J. Watson. I have always enjoyed reading about those I don’t admire and don’t feel I agree with morally almost as much as the opposite. The magic of E.J. Watson is that he is never one thing or another. After 900 pages you still don’t have a firm handle on who he is. The three different perspectives were well done. They overlapped but there was enough different each time that you didn’t feel you were reading the same story. You learned different pieces of the story in each retelling. In fact, the biggest challenge of the novel was reconciling the three different perspectives given they were separated by so many pages. I also enjoyed reading about the Wild, Wild West era of Florida; the description of Florida reminded me of The Yearling. Ultimately, what detracted from the story was its length. It could have been and needed to be tighter and more concisely delivered.