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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
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.Read more ›
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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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.Read more ›
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I stumbled upon the legend of Edgar A. "Jack" 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 headed down 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 that 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.
They didn't sell the book there (for reasons now clear), so I found a copy at my local library. Once hungrily devoured, I sought out the next two volumes of Matthiessen's Watson trilogy. Then I discovered this "new retelling" and bought it instead.
The distilled, condensed, and rewritten origin of "Shadow Country" is both a strength and a weakness - it varies by sections. Book I is based on "Killing Mr. Watson". I enjoyed this version more than the original. It was good to begin with - well written, well paced, well-rounded characters, etc. But the new version is better, polished and worn to perfection.
The form here is the same as in the older book.Read more ›
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