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Shadow Country (Modern Library Paperbacks) Paperback – December 2, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 199 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The life and times of Florida frontiersman E.J. Watson are meticulously chronicled in Matthiessen's National Book Award–winning masterpiece. Combining three novels in one, the book follows Watson from his early years to his bloody demise, as recounted by his family and friends. The story is brought to life by the gifted Heald, who creates a cosmos of compelling characters, each as believable as the last, and imbues the environment with an atmosphere of chilling menace. Despite the book's sprawling length, readers will be hooked by this magnificent listening experience. A Modern Library hardcover. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics described the three stand-alone Watson novels as magnificent epics, and Shadow Country, a seamless weaving and slimming down of these works, as a masterpiece. As in all his writing, Matthiessen offers a beautiful homage to place—the raw, untamed Everglades of the late 19th century—while trying to understand the costs that accompanied the conquering of the frontier. All the stand-alone sections have their strengths as they explore the motivations behind Watson's death. Despite its heft, most reviewers described Shadow Country as a surprisingly fast read. Only the reviewer from the New York Times Book Review expressed complaints about what felt like one big literary contrivance. But the rest agreed: "This mighty book is the potent distillation of a tale that was brilliantly told to begin with" (St. Petersburg Times).
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (December 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081298062X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980622
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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For nearly twenty years I've been obsessed by Edgar Watson, the Everglades Planter known as "Bloody Watson" and "Emperor Watson" for the 50-odd murders attributed to him by a century of legend and myth.

Peter Matthiessen was way more obsessed than me, writing four novels about Watson. I read the first in 1990. The last just this past December. It, Shadow Country, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2008. It is Matthiessen's masterpiece, and I have no qualms saying it is among the top novels in all of American literature, a book I would stack against Moby Dick, Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Gravity's Rainbow, White Noise ....

Matthiessen does several important things that won my admiration. First, his voice, his writing, is a very spare, zen language that is short on embellishment but poetic in its nature. Second, the structure that he brings to the narrative is very inventive. The first part of the novel is the tale of Watson's death at the hands of more than two dozen of his neighbors who gun him down after a hurricane in the fall of 1910, hitting him with 33 bullets. That part, which formed the basis of Killing Mister Watson, is an succession of reminiscences by those on that Chokoloskee beach, a backwater Rashomon that bring some amazing vernacular, history, and drama. The book starts with the killing -- and what follows is an utter mind-twister of why Watson was killed.

The second part of the novel is the story of one of Watson's sons, Lucius, who tries to reassemble the facts and seperate them from the myths about his father, who, among other legends, was the reputed murderer of outlaw queen Belle Starr.
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Format: Paperback
I purchased this book simply because it won the National Book Award. I was very daunted by the pure size of the novel. I approached it like I would approach eating broccoli. It was something that I might not necessarily enjoy but would be good for me.

Once I passed the first 30 pages or so, I looked forward to reading it every day. What a superb study of character, perception, point of view, American history, the environment, Florida etc.

This is such a meaty, worthwhile piece of writing. I truly loved every minute of my time with this book and was sorry when it ended.

It is structured in 3 parts.

Book I tells the story of EJ Watson who was killed by his neighbours in SW Florida in 1910. It gives his story from multiple points of view and many of the narrators are the ones that killed him. Their perceptions of him are based on some truth and many rumours. He appeared to be quite a villain who they rightly ridded the world of.

Book II is from the perspective of his son Lucius who becomes obsessed with the legend of his dead father and is hopeful that the many murders attributed to "Bloody" Watson are untrue. He meets resistance and many people don't want the past dredged up.

The third book is from EJ Watson's point of view and it is the perfect conclusion. We learn a lot more about what really happened though we are conscious that Watson himself may not always admit everything. Watson does do many bad things but of course his reputation causes many things to be blamed on him that he did not do. Although there are murders, Watson really sees himself as someone who tried to do good.

I found this to be one of the most complete and fascinating character studies I've ever read.
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Format: Hardcover
Shadow Country (Modern Library)

I wondered why I should read another 900 pages of the Mr Watson saga. After all, I'd already ready the previous Watson books. But since i am a huge Peter Matthiessen fan I bought the book anyway. Time and money well spent, this is another masterpiece. He takes the reader so deep into the Florida backcountry of yesterday that you, like me, will probably catch yourself thinking in cracker dialect. I know how the story ends but read on in awe anyway. If you like brilliant dialog, well-drawn characters, often tragically flawed, an exotic setting, so near and far from today's Florida, read this book. I loved it!
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Format: Paperback
I stumbled upon the legend of Edgar "Bloody" Watson completely by chance. Looking at maps of my home state, I'd always noticed Everglades City hanging on to the bottom of Florida's Gulf coast like a shipwreck survivor holding on to a rescue line. So when the family paid a visit to Everglades National Park last June, we took a side trip down there, and then continued on south to the very end of the road: the island of Chokoloskee.

Ted Smallwood's store still stands on the southwest corner of this southwest corner of Florida. It's a museum now, with the merchandise kept just the way it was when it finally closed as a working general store in the 1950s. There's an unsettlingly lifelike mannequin of ol' Ted himself, sitting in his rocking chair, forever holding his flyswatter. And there's a sign near the back porch mentioning that, as told in the book "Killing Mister Watson", Edgar Watson was shot dead by his neighbors right outside where the gentle waves lap upon the mud and mangroves.

The Smallwood Store & Museum didn't sell Matthiessen's books at the time (they do now), so I found a copy of "Killing Mr. Watson" at my local library. It was great, and I sought out the next book in the series immediately upon finishing it. That's when I discovered "Shadow Country", which is a one-volume "retelling" of the original Watson trilogy, and bought it instead.

The distilled, condensed, and rewritten origin of "Shadow Country" is mainly a strength - it varies by sections. Book one is based on "Killing Mr. Watson". The original was excellent, and this version is even better - well written, well paced, well-rounded characters, well polished to perfection.
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