Shadow Country

Shadow Country

by Peter Matthiessen


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NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER •  “Altogether gripping, shocking, and brilliantly told, not just a tour de force in its stylistic range, but a great American novel, as powerful a reading experience as nearly any in our literature.”—Michael Dirda, The New York Review of Books

Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone—Peter Matthiessen’s great American epic about Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson on the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century—were originally conceived as one vast, mysterious novel. Now, in this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has marvelously distilled a monumental work while deepening the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout. 

Praise for Shadow Country

“Magnificent . . . breathtaking . . . Finally now we have [this three-part saga] welded like a bell, and with Watson’s song the last sound, all the elements fuse and resonate.”Los Angeles Times

“Peter Matthiessen has done great things with the Watson trilogy. It’s the story of our continent, both land and people, and his writing does every justice to the blood fury of his themes.”—Don DeLillo

 “The fiction of Peter Ma­­tthiessen is the reason a lot of people in my generation decided to be writers. No doubt about it. Shadow Country lives up to anyone’s highest expectations for great writing.” —Richard Ford 

Shadow Country, Matthiessen’s distillation of the earlier Watson saga, represents his original vision. It is the quintessence of his lifelong concerns, and a great legacy.”—W. S. Merwin 

“[An] epic masterpiece . . . a great American novel.”The Miami Herald

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812980622
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/02/2008
Series: Modern Library Paperbacks Series
Pages: 912
Sales rank: 117,156
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Peter Matthiessen has written eight novels, including At Play in the Fields of the Lord (nominated for the National Book Award) and Far Tortuga, and also a book of short stories, On the River Styx. His parallel career as a naturalist and environmental activist has produced numerous acclaimed works of nonfiction, most of them serialized in The New Yorker; these include The Tree Where Man Was Born (another National Book Award nominee) and The Snow Leopard (a National Book Award winner). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974.

Read an Excerpt


We never had no trouble from Mister Watson, and from what we seen, he never caused none, not amongst his neighbors. All his trouble come to him from the outside.

E. J. Watson turned up at Half Way Creek back in 1892, worked on the produce farms awhile, worked in the cane. Hard worker, too, but it don’t seem like he hoed cane for the money, it was more like he wanted a feel for our community. Strong, good-looking feller in his thirties, dark red hair, well made, thick through the shoulders but no fat on him, not in them days. Close to six foot and carried himself well, folks noticed him straight off and no one fooled with him. First time you seen the man you wanted him to like you—he was that kind. Wore a broad black hat and a black frock coat with big pockets, made him look bulky. Times we was cutting buttonwood with ax and hand saw, two-three cords a day—that’s hot, hard, humid work, case you ain’t done it—Ed Watson never changed that outfit. Kept that coat on over his denim coveralls, he said, cause he never knew when he might expect some company from up north. Might smile a little when he said that but never give no explanation.

Folks didn’t know where this stranger come from and nobody asked. You didn’t ask a man hard questions, not in the Ten Thousand Islands, not in them days. Folks will tell you different today, but back then there weren’t too many in our section that wasn’t on the run from someplace else. Who would come to these rain-rotted islands with not hardly enough high ground to build a outhouse, and so many miskeeters plaguing you in the bad summers you thought you’d took the wrong turn straight to Hell?

Old Man William Brown was cutting cane, and he listened to them men opining how this Watson feller was so able and so friendly. Old Man William took him a slow drink of water, give a sigh. Willie Brown said, “Well, now, Papa, is that sigh a warnin?” And his daddy said, “I feel somethin, is all. Same way I feel the damp.” They all respected Old Man William, but there weren’t one man in the cane that day that took him serious.

All the same, we noticed quick, you drawed too close to E. J. Watson, he eased out sideways like a crab, gave himself room. One time, my half-uncle Tant Jenkins come up on him letting his water, and Mister Watson come around so fast Tant Jenkins thought this feller aimed to piss on him. By the time Tant seen it weren’t his pecker he had in his hand, that gun was halfway back into them coveralls, but not so fast he could not be sure of what he seen.

Being brash as well as nervous, Tant says, “Well, now, Mister Watson! Still es-pectin company from the North?” And Watson says, very agreeable, “Any company that shows up unexpected will find me ready with a nice warm welcome.”

Ed Watson had money in his pocket when he come to Half Way Creek, which ain’t none of my business, but in all the years I knew him, right up till near the end, he always come up with money when he had to. We never knew till later he was on the dodge, but Half Way Creek was too handy to the lawmen for his liking. Ain’t nothing much out there today but a few old cisterns, but Half Way Creek had near a dozen families then, more than Everglade or Chokoloskee. Course back in them days there weren’t hardly a hundred souls in that whole hundred mile of coast south to Cape Sable.

Mister Watson weren’t at Half Way Creek but a few days when he paid cash money for William Brown’s old schooner. Ain’t many would buy a sixty-foot schooner that didn’t know nothing about boats. Time he was done, Ed Watson was one of the best boatmen on this coast.

Mister Watson and me cut buttonwood all around Bay Sunday, run it over to Key West, three dollars a cord. I seen straight off that Ed. J. Watson meant to go someplace, I seen my chance, so I signed on to guide him down around the Islands. I was just back from a year down there, plume hunting for Chevelier; I turned that Frenchman over to Bill House. We was just young fellers then, a scant fourteen. No school on Chokoloskee so you went to work.

Folks ask, “Would you have worked for Watson if you knowed about him what you know today?” Well, hell, I don’t know what I know today and they don’t neither. With so many stories growed up around that feller, who is to say which ones was true? What I seen were a able-bodied man, mostly quiet, easy in his ways, who acted according to our ideas of a gentleman. And that was all we had, ideas, cause we had never seen one in this section, unless you would count Preacher Gatewood, who brought the Lord to Everglade back in 1888 and took Him away again when he departed, the men said. Some kind of a joke, wouldn’t surprise me.

Most of our old Glades pioneers was drifters and deserters from the War Between the States who never got the word that we was licked. Moonshiners and plume hunters, the most of ’em. Thatch lean-tos and a skiff and pot and rifle, maybe a jug of homemade lightning for fighting off the skeeters in the evening. Had earth in a tub, made their fire in the skiff, had coffee going morning, noon, and night.

Man on the run who used the name Will Raymond was camped with a woman and her daughter in a palmetta shack on that big bend in Chatham River, living along on grits and mullet, taking some gator hides and egret plumes, selling bad moonshine to the Injuns. We seen plenty like Will Raymond in the Islands, knife-mouthed piney-woods crackers, hollow-eyed under wool hats, and them bony-cheeked tall women with lank black hair like horse mane. Go crazy every little while, shoot some feller through the heart. Will done that more’n once in other parts, we heard, and got that habit. Seems the law wanted him bad—dead or alive, as you might say. When deputies come a-hunting him out of Key West, Will said nosir, he’d be damned if he’d go peaceable, and he whistled a bullet past their heads to prove it, but he was peaceable as the law allows by the time the smoke cleared. The law invited the Widder Raymond to accompany his mangy carcass on a free boat ride to Key West, and she said, “Thankee, boys, I don’t mind if I do.”

Old Man Richard Harden, then the Frenchman, was on Chatham Bend before him, and the Injuns before that; biggest Injun mound south of Chokoloskee Island. Most of the Bend was overgrowed cause none of ’em weren’t farmers, and Mister Watson would cuss Will Raymond every time we went downriver, saying how pitiful it was to see that good ground going to waste. One day Mister Watson went ashore, made an offer for the quit-claim, and Raymond come out with a old musket, run him off. Fortnight later, a posse come a hundred mile north from Key West and killed that pesky feller, and next thing you know, Ed Watson tracked the widder down and bought the quit-claim, two hundred fifty dollars. That was a pile of cash in them days, but what he got was forty acres of good soil, protected on three sides by mangrove tangle: anybody who come huntin E. J. Watson would have to come straight at him, off the river.

E. J. Watson had grand plans, about the only feller down there as ever did. Used to talk about dredging out the mouth of Chatham River, make a harbor for that wild southwest coast. Meantime, he sunk buttonwood posts to frame up a new cabin, had wood shutters and canvas flaps on the front windows, brought in a woodstove and a kerosene lamp and a galvanized tub for anyone might care to bath. We ate good, too, fish and wild meat, sowbelly and grits, had a big iron skillet and made johnnycakes: put some lard to his good flour, cooked ’em up dry. I remembered them big johnnycakes all my whole life.

Will Raymond’s shack weren’t fit for hogs, Mister Watson said, had to patch it up before he put his hogs in it. We had two cows, and chickens, too, but that man had a real feel for hogs. He loved hogs and hogs loved him, come to his call from all over the Bend, I can hear him calling down them river evenings to this day. Brought ’em in at night cause of the panthers, fed ’em garden trash and table slops and such so they wouldn’t get no fishy taste like them old razorbacks at Hardens that fed on crabs and lowlife when the tide was out. Kept a old roan horse to pull his plow, break that hard shell ground, and sometimes he’d ride around his farm like it was his old family plantation back in South Carolina.

Mister Watson experimented with all kinds of vegetables and tobacco. Only victuals we traded for was salt and coffee: bought hard green coffee beans, wrapped ’em in burlap. hammered ’em to powder with a mallet. Made our own grits and sugar and cane spirits—what we called white lightning. Seasons when vegetables done poor, we’d pole inland up the creeks and out across the Glades to the piney ridges, get Injun greens and coontie root for starch and flour, cut some cabbage-palm tops in the hammocks. Worked his crew like niggers and worked like a nigger alongside of us. Brung in regular niggers from Fort Myers, and they worked hard, too—that man knew how to get work from his help! Them boys was scared to death of him, he could be rough. But they sure liked to listen to his stories, least when he weren’t drinking. Told ’em nigger jokes that set ’em giggling for hours—nerves, maybe. I never did get them fool jokes. Me’n niggers just don’t think the same.

Ed Watson was the first man since the Injuns to hack down all that thorn on Chatham Bend. Dug out palmetta roots thick as his leg, raked the shell out of that black soil and made a farm. Grew all kinds of vegetables, grew cane for syrup, and tomatoes and then alligator pears. Chok folks hooted when he tried seed potatoes, but Mister Watson shipped them things for three-four years and almost made ’em pay, and never failed to raise a few for our own table.

We got good money for our produce but too much spoiled before it reached Key West, so pretty quick, we give up on common vegetables and stuck to sugarcane. Next he figured that making cane syrup right there on the Bend made a lot more sense than shipping heavy stalks, because syrup could be stored till he got his price. First planter in south Florida to let his cane tassel before harvest so the syrup would boil down stronger without sugaring. Burned off his field before harvest, too, figuring the work would go much faster once the leaves and cane tops was burned away: nothing but clean stalks to deal with, not much sugar lost, and a smaller crew. And he learned not to wait too long: he’s the one discovered that cane sugar don’t extract good from the stalks even a few days after the burn.

Locally we sold every jar of syrup we produced so we invested in a bigger schooner that he called the Gladiator, packed our syrup in screw-top gallon cans, six to the case, shipped ’em to Port Tampa and Key West. Island Pride! Our brand grew to be famous. Them fellers at Half Way Creek and Turner River made good syrup but our Island Pride had left ’em in the dust.

All this while we shot gators and egrets when they was handy. Up them inland creeks past Alligator Bay, white egrets was thick, pink curlew, too, and we never failed to take a deer for venison, sometimes a turkey. Trapped coons and otters, shot a bear or panther every little while. Mister Watson was a deadeye shot. I could shoot pretty good, too, but the only man in southwest Florida could shoot as quick and clean as E. J. Watson was Nigger Short.

When D. D. House moved his cane plantation from Half Way Creek down to a big hammock north of Chatham Bend, he took Short with him. Sundays, that boy might visit with Bill House at Possum Key or go to Hardens. Henry and me got on all right, I never held nothin against him, but them damn Hardens let that nigger eat right at their table.

Besides me and Mister Watson, the only man hunting plume birds in our section was the Frenchman. One day we seen Chevelier’s skiff come out Sim’s Creek that’s back of Gopher Key. Sometimes that old man had Injuns with him, and this day I seen a dugout slide out of sight into the greenery.

Mister Watson never paid them Injuns no attention, only the skiff; he made me a sign to ship my oars, drift quiet. When Chevelier lifted his straw hat to mop his head, he shot it right out of his hand, just spun it away into the water. That old man yelped and grabbed his oars and skedaddled like a duck into the mangroves. “Stay off my territory!” shouts Watson. Picking up the floating hat with that new hole in it, he was grinning, kind of sheepish. Never a whisper from the mangroves and nothing to be seen but them red stilt roots, water glitter, and green air. “You’ll find your hat at Chatham Bend!” he yells.

I told Mister Watson how Chevelier was collecting rare birds for museums, used small-gauge bird shot so as not to spoil the skins. The Frenchman had all kinds of books, knew all about Injuns, spoke some of their lingo; he had wild men visiting at Possum Key that would never go nowhere near Chokoloskee Bay. Traded their hides and furs through Richard Harden, who claimed to be Choctaw or some such, though nobody never paid that no attention. The Frenchman was always close to Hardens, and probably it was Old Man Richard who brought them Injuns to him in the first place.

All the while I was talking, Mister Watson watched me. That feller would look at you dead on for a long minute, then blink just once, real slow, like a chewing turtle, keeping his eyes closed for a moment as if resting ’em up from such a dretful sight. That’s how I first noticed his fire color, that dark red hair the color of old embers or dried blood, and the ruddy skin and sunburned whiskers with a little gold to ’em, like he glowed inside. Then them blue eyes fixed me again, out of the shadow of that black felt hat. Only hat in the Ten Thousand Islands, I imagine, that had a label into it from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I took to whistling.

“What’s he up to over yonder, then?” Mister Watson interrupts me. I told him about that Injun mound hid away on Gopher Key and the white shell lining the canal that come in there from the Gulf. My opinion, Chevelier was hunting Calusa treasure.

On the way home, he was quiet. Finally he said he wouldn’t mind having him a chat with a educated man like Jean Chevelier—Che-vell-yay, he called him, stead of Shovel-leer, the way us local fellers said it—and he reckoned he’d picked a piss-poor way to get acquainted. He was right. That old Frenchman had some sand or he wouldn’t have made it all alone here in the Islands. This hat business weren’t over by a long shot.

We hung that felt hat on a peg when we got home but the Frenchman never come for it. After that day, we had them plume birds to ourselves.

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Shadow Country 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Those who read literature for the Art will be emotionally swept away. The writing is absolutely biblical in its proportions, rhythm and voice. The characters live. The greatest literary masterpiece of the 20th Century. Hillard Fried, Esq.
AnnaPop More than 1 year ago
Have to disagree with faultfinders. I loved this book. Couldn't wait to get back to it every night. An epic tale, combining the comedy of human foibles with almost inevitably unavoidable consequences that approach the tragic. We hear the story of one family, one character in particular, and multiple events, from the perspective of several voices, thus "the truth" keeps slipping and sliding as we are confronted with the eternal conflict between absolute beliefs and the relativity of truth when seen from someone else's eyes. The tone is pitch-perfect, the historical perspective surprisingly topical today; I regretted coming to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This long and enormously interesting book is a reworking of the three separate volumes-a National Book Award Winner-published from 1990 to 1999 into a single book. I haven't read the original trilogy but if Matthiessen's goal in the revision was to clarify and coalesce the three parts, I believe he's succeeded admirably. The story of the planter Edgar A. Watson takes place in the post-Civil War south into the turn of the 20th century. There is no mystery about the outcome since the denouement occurs in the opening pages of the book. But very quickly the true story, the parallel threads of the personal history of the central character as well as the growing pains of the region and the country leading up to the finale, is made clear. It's about one of the last frontiers in America told from many points of view and centering on a recurring theme of the movement of time and events as a river flows to the sea. In this telling the river is seen but so are the multiple strands and tributaries leading inexorably to the dramatic and tragic outcome. Reviewers have pointed to Matthiessen's "stylistic range" and this was to me one of the most striking accomplishments of the book. Book I (based on Killing Mister Watson) is told as a continuing series of first-person observations and recollections of characters directly and indirectly involved in Watson's life and death. Here the voices-in dialogue and recitation-are unique, individuated and convincing. In the second book (based on Lost Man's River) the voice is now a third-person narration from the point of view of Lucius Watson, Edgar Watson's middle, adult son (he had at least ten children) as he sets about the arduous and dangerous task of riddling out the reasons and the perpetrators of his father's death. Was it a murder, an execution, a lynching, or suicide? Lucius is the gentle and bookish son most loving and loved by his father. He is also a lover of nature and here begin descriptions of the natural world that are far ranging and at times truly poetic. These images stand in contrast to the depictions of the horrors wrought on nature by encroaching development and the often breathtaking racist brutality of the Jim Crow Era. Finally in Book III (from Bone by Bone) we are brought full circle to Edgar Watson's story in his own words and through his own thoughts and opinions. Edgar supplies the final pieces of the puzzle and yet he remains enigmatic to his last breath. The reader must draw his or her own conclusions as to his motivations. The character is so complex: simultaneously attractive and repellent, insightful and blind, nurturing and lethal, not to mention ingenious in his survival while hurtling, maddeningly toward self-destruction. If your standard for fiction is a story that stays with you long after the book is closed, Shadow Country should be on your list.
Gian More than 1 year ago
While I can understand some readers preferring the original 3 separate novels, which I read when they were originally published, I found this "retelling" a tremendous achievement. The distilling of the source material into one-volume provided me with a better read this time around. I was captivated for the entire nearly 900 pages; the history of the area, the poetic prose which puts Matthiessen's love of natural history to great effect and especially being able to enjoy the change in points of view as each "book" flowed into the next. This joins my list of all-time favorites and I look forward to a re-read at some point of this American epic.
BearWT More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, facinating. I first heard of Mr. Watson while at the Smallwood store in Chokoloskee. Having read The Snow Leapord, a favorite, I had to pick up the book. Though lengthy, I couldn't put it down. Very informitave about Florida history as well as a facinating story of a Florida community.
TG3613 More than 1 year ago
Even a year later, I can't forget the characters, setting and intriguing plot from this book. I am a lifelong reader, and I think this is my favorite book. I've never been able to say such things before.
Hugh_Donson More than 1 year ago
Nearly nine-hundred pages long, Shadow Country is easily one of the longest books I've ever read. My first thought about Shadow Country was that it would be impossible for me to finish. I was wrong. Peter Matthiessen is a master storyteller and master of the English language. He is especially gifted (or practiced) in creating texture; his words grind in scenes of tension and soothe in scenes of peace. In addition, his cast of characters - ranging from the pure and innocent to schizophrenic - might be the best I've ever enjoyed. If you appreciate a good story and the English language at its best, read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Shadow Country" is a massive re-rendering of the Watson legend. It covers the span of twelve years of E.J. Watson's legend in the Ten Thousand Islands of the Everglades. The Watson legend fuses story, myth, and a little history into a bizarre profile that makes the plantation owner flourish in his past and>? end up bullet-ridden deep in the swamps. Reports and rumors claim "Bloody Watson" was the killer of outlaw Belle Starr way back in 1889. He carries a large family from his prosperous homeland of South Carolina: a handful of wives and about a dozen children. Matthiesen has combined his previous three tales ("Killing Mister Watson," "Lost Man's River," and "Bone by Bone") into "Shadow Country." The three part chronicles within "Shadow Country" take on a new perspective of the legend. However, the same outcome in Matthiessen's previous works is echoed; 33 slugs to the legend, myth, and body of a mysterious man. The three books begin with a third-person remembrance of E.J. Watson. Twelve characters relive the moments near the man. Watson's persona is in a gyre from the "Ill punch your nose off" written in his daughter's journal to a neighbor who recalls "Mister Watson had no interest in such hymns before his family come and he never had none after they was gone." Was Watson a family man or a fearless drunk? The ambiguity of the first book leaves many detailed memories, but more confusion in the construction of a mad-man. In Book II, his son discovers his father's code for revenge. The backing of his skill with a firearm and his sad upbringing are discovered by Lucius. Initially, revenge seems to be the driving force behind the son's search for answers. No stone is left unturned in this episode of paternal anger. The words alone are dry and coarse, but collectively create a massive book of notes that reveal the Watson family's darkest secrets. Either the overwhelming facts of his family, or the frequent encounters with the land mongering lawyer Dyer, leads Lucius to set ablaze all his work. The truths and mysteries are gone. The persistent questioning by Lucius reads like a psychology report: "But if that was his plan, why.Was that just a bad mistake, as people said? Papa didn't make mistakes like that, not when he had the whole trip think his plan through." Book III is from E.J. Watson himself. An utter ending to the story told in truth. Speaking from the grave, unfortunately, makes the R.L. Stine to appear ahead his time. Matthiessen wants his character to have the fairy tale ending. The shadow surrounding his death is lifted. E.J, Bloody, Emperor Watson reflects on his mystery. The sugar plantation owner, the feared man, the exile, and the father lie to rest. While I wish there was a better way to end the story, Matthiessen allows first time readers of the legend to find the truth. The Everglades seem to swamp the story with an eerie sense, and an acrid tone. In all, "Shadow Country" is a good story. The legend of E.J. Watson will live on forever through these books. Matthiessen combines three styles of writing into one cohesive rendering. The middle section lacked abundant excitement and the ending fell short of believability. Despite the perplexing point of views, the final piece of the Watson Legend series was a success. Matthiessen and "Shadow Country" are deserving of the National Book Award for this tremendous tale of untraveled lands and quick-to draw pioneers.
JoelHFL More than 1 year ago
This is an intriguing one-book trilogy about a very interesting set of characters--particularly the protagonist, Ed Watson. The author has very effectively portrayed this man's life in the early frontier days of Florida and other parts, and has given it a realistic authenticity. One downside is that there is an awful lot of killing and mean fealings by many of the characters. However, it seems justified in the light of the wild nature of those early times. The strength of the portrayal of the main character, Ed Watson, makes this (long)book hard to put down even to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A unique way of telling a story; multiple perspectives add layer upon layer to the story line
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book more than any that I have read in years. The characters will stay with you long after you've read the final words. I read the Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone contain 400 more pages of this story. I plan to read them as soon as possbile.
nbNYC More than 1 year ago
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 have lugged this book around everywhere and read it whenever I have a moment to spare. I have about a hundred pages left and truly do 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 find myself rereading chapters just to be able to absorb it all. The langague 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 Oates or 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 chracter'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. This is the first book I have read by Matthiessen. He is truly a master storyteller.
sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Repetitious and way too long. Retelling of the events from several viewpoints was tedious and sometimes downright difficult to get through. Several times I asked myself why I continued to listen. I was always hoping the book would redeem itself in the end. I give it two stars only for the description of the time and place. I'd give the reader, Anthony Heald, five stars for making it as interesting as possible. Ah..two weeks of my life I could have been reading something else.
spounds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific book! A new favorite!Warning: This book is really long. I listened to it as an unabridged audiobook and it was 40 hours long. As much as I am able to read each week, it took me 5 months to complete. The good news is that is was a really great 5 months of listening. The book is broken into three parts all relating the story of the killing of Edgar Watson. The first book was hardest to listen to. It is told from the point of view of many different people and it was hard to keep up with who was who. At one point I went online, found the first few pages, and printed off the genealogy that is at the front of the book. The second book is told from the point of view of Watson's son, trying to find out the truth about his father. I was emotionally drained at the end of this one and almost dreaded starting the third book.The third book, however, may be the best of all. Watson relates his life story and finally the truth is revealed.Very well written and very well narrated. Highly recommended!
Girl_Detective on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mathiessen's historicized fictional Edgar Watson is a fascinating character. His story is interwoven with that of the state of Florida and a history of racism at the turn of the last century. The first section of the book is told from revolving viewpoints of people and relatives who knew Edgar Watson. The second segment is told by his son Lucius, a historian. The third is told by Edgar himself.Few writers could handle these acrobatics of Point of View, yet Matthiessen manages it skillfully, turning the tapestry of the tales into one story, though it¿s always shifting. It¿s fascinating, compelling stuff. It won the National Book Award last year.And yet. This would not be a book I would press on a stranger, or even someone I didn¿t know very well. It¿s clearly a life¿s work for Matthiessen. While rewarding, it¿s definitely not a book for general audiences. But if you¿re interested in U.S. and Florida history, like thick books that you can sink into for weeks or months at a time, or love historical novels with complex characters, then this is certainly worth checking out. Just give yourself plenty of time to devote to it.
idiotgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Audiobook. This really is a fine book. Originally it was three separate books. And it still comprises three separate tellings of the same story. The first book more or less begins where the third book ends--the death of E.J. Watson, shot by a crowd of his neighbors as he comes ashore in a boat at a settlement where his young wife and children wait. Each telling of the story employs very different narrative techniques. The first telling is mostly fragments of first person narrative from various players in the story (excluding E. J. Watson). The second telling focalizes on his youngest son Lucius, grown up a historian and trying to find the truth of his father's story. Going back and interviewing the survivors--some 20 to 30 years later. Looking in particular for his oldest brothers and his piece of the puzzle. The final telling is a first-person narrative of E. J. Watson himself that goes up and through the moment of his death. In the end, you have so many views of the story. Going back to the earliest years of Watson's youth (his memories as a young boy at the beginning of the Civil War) going forward to the end of Lucious's story in the 1930s. The story of a family on the frontiers of the Florida Everglades. I listened to the story. But I think that some day soon I will go back and read the words myself. Listening was very good. A good part driving down the Oregon coast. Grand experience.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being extolled as one of the best novels of our time (and recipient of the 2008 National Book Award), I had to give this book a read. Although originally conceived as one large novel (but published, in its original form, as three upon the advice of his publishing company: Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River and Bone By Bone), this still felt like three very distinct voices about the life of one man. At its core, all three parts revolve around the life and lynching murder of one Edgar A.J. Watson. Apparently Edgar Watson was a real human being and this is an interesting take, in many different viewpoints, of who he was and why he did what he did. We are never sure if he is an abused and confused boy, a senseless killer, a desperado, a braggart or just an "animal" of a man (the latter being a viewpoint oft talked about). The first part deals with how he was thought of by his neighbors before he was murdered ~ told from their perspectives. The second part is about his sons, Lucius, who spends his life trying to understand who is father was and in doing so, writing the history of his Father's life. Then there is the oldest son, Rob, a fugitive at an early age who had a very dark secret about his Father that tortured him his whole life. The third part, we finally hear the story from Watson's perspective, which clears some things up and confuses others.The timeframe, 1850s to the time of his death in 1910, "pioneer" Florida in the Everglades (and some parts of Arkansas, South Carolina and Southern Florida) is utterly fascinating. It was a cruel, dangerous time and there are so many other deaths in this book, it ultimately numbs the reader. I struggled somewhat with the main character. He suffered a cruel, abusive childhood, which we are to conclude, made him in great part what he was (and was not), but I couldn't muster up any real feelings for the guy. He was a brutal killer with flashes of kindness, but he was not a good man, not even a likeable one ... but yet the book tries to convince us, at times, he is. This is an exhausting read, at times very beautifully written, at times downright boring, others times rather ridiculous about the murderous "pioneer code" and futility of it all. Although I suppose it's true, but it's rather hard to believe a man would gun another down on a shifty look or a stolen pig. But those were the times, I guess. This is a book comprised, in great part, of incredibly unlikeable people. So at times, I wondered whether I really cared about them and their fates. I think I just reached a point where I decided I was going to finish the book no matter what. The Everglades itself is the most interesting character, the telling of its original beauty, the ecology, biology; and then sadly, senseless slaughter of the animals (some, never to be recovered) and ruination of the land to "progress." I also liked the way that innuendo and rumor during those early years, as now, could be the end of a person, even if there is no truth to what was being said ~ a very interesting study on human nature. I was glad I read it, but I'm not so sure I know anyone I would recommend it to. It was sort of a labor and not always one of love, more tenacity, I think. There is no way I feel this is one of the best novels of all time, however; it is a very good book and in some ways, a very original novel. It lingers in my mind in many ways, so in that respect, it is somewhat powerful.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shadow Country is Peter Matthiessen¿s reworked rendering of his earlier trilogy of historical fiction relating the life of the brutal Florida pioneer Edgar J. Watson. This version still consists of three ¿books¿ and runs to almost 900 pages. I did not read the earlier version and so cannot offer comparisons between the two.Shadow Country is almost entirely set in the 1890¿s and early 1900¿s in a frontier region not widely known ¿ the Ten Thousand Islands of south Gulf Coast Florida (the Everglades area). The area was absurdly remote at the time and presented such daunting challenges and dangers to any settlers that it was in fact nearly unsettled. And nearly all who did settle there were running or hiding from something, such as the law or deserted family members. Or they were just deeply anti-social. Aside from its remoteness, the area had almost nothing to recommend itself (I usually the qualified `almost nothing¿ in the vent that I think of some redeeming feature). It is brutally hot and humid, resistant to agriculture, possessed of dangerous animals (on sea and land), prone to calamitous storms, infested with mosquitoes, and inhabited by a large proportion of suddenly violent men as well as sociopathic criminals. This is the place Edgar J. Watson chooses to live.Within the first ten pages of Book One, the reader confronts this sentence: ¿Oh Lord God,¿ she cries. ¿They are killing Mr. Watson!¿ (Killing off the main character in the opening pages of a 900-page work of fiction proves Matthiessen is either brave or foolish.) The story is told with a dozen different narrators recalling Watson¿s arrival and life in the islands. Matthiessen¿s remarkable ability to produce so many distinctive voices makes this book incredibly readable. These people can all tell a story (they are in good practice life on the islands providing so much idle time). Matthiessen does not, however, make them all tell the same story; differences of viewpoint produce a fascinating ambiguity. That Watson is an exceptional man is undoubted. Beginning with nothing, he manages to set himself up as a power to be reckoned with. He is also grandiose, violent, and merciless. But is he a murderer (several times over)? Opinions vary. He drinks too much. He loses what he has and what he wants and what he values. It is a hard life in a hard place.Book Two traces the story of Lucius Watson¿s ¿obsessive quest for the truth about his father¿ (NYT Review). It is the 1920¿s and Lucius is writing a history of his father¿s life (he has a doctorate in history), traveling to courthouse archives and interviewing long-forgotten family members. But he also has ¿the list¿ of the armed men who gunned down the elder Watson. The list naturally makes people nervous and some of them are quite dangerous. Book Two reveals some fascinating history, including the mostly unsavory operation of the law in south Florida, such as sheriff¿s renting the labor of black inmates to business interests (and pocketing much of the money).Book Three presents Edgar himself as the narrator of his life story from a child in South Carolina to various stopping places in Florida, Arkansas, and finally the Thousand Islands. The brutality of his childhood, the ready violence of white men toward blacks and of his own father toward him, makes Edgar¿s later actions more understandable person, if not justified. He develops a rigid personal code that demands recompense in full for any slight. He attempts a justification that reveals some complexity and contradictions, but falls short of the mark.Shadow Country is an American epic of a mysterious historical character (yes, Edgar Watson really lived and died in the islands). The writing is at times exquisite. The story it tells is often brutal or just about plain hard life. The writing is compelling, the reading can be draining.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The thing that most strikes me about this book is the unique way that is told. The author always intended for it to be told as one novel, but it was originally released as three separate novels. In this final version, [Shadow Country], the entire story is told as all one novel. The first third of the novel is told through the eyes of EJ Watson's neighbors about their rememberances of him, which are mostly shrouded in innuendo. The second third are told through the eyes of his son, which are mostly shrouded through filial love. Finally, the shadows of biased perspective are removed and we get a truer glimpse of Watson in the final third of the book, which is told by Watson from his own perspective.Adding to the intrigue of this book is that there really was an EJ Watson who was gunned down bay his neighbors near Chokoloskee, Florida in 1910. Much of the book is based on the little that is known about the real man with Matthiessen filling in the rest from the muse of the fiction writer's imagination. Throwing in a dose of regional history and some allusions to [The Illiad], Matthiessen crafts a work that sparks consideration in the reader of the power that perspective, bias, changing circumstance have on how we perceive the world. All in all, I found this to be well worth reading.
brenzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction so when this book came out I was sure I'd like it. However, it had a lot going against it. First of all, its' daunting length-just short of 900 pages of dense writing. Then the absolutely incredible number of characters-impossible to keep straight and the lengthy list in the front of the book doesn't even scratch the surface. On page 715 I was still back pedalling, trying to refresh my memory about recurring characters. Then there was the southern dialect that I thought would make for difficult reading. With all that going against it, why did I absolutely LOVE this book? It was the writing! Matthiessen really can write. All the quotes on the first couple of pages, "epic," "masterpiece," "magnum opus," "touchstone of modern American literature" that usually seem like platitudes turned out to be dead on.There's no way to summarize the book- as I said, too many characters. The novel is divided into three books and at the beginning of the first book, in the prologue, we learn about the killing of Mr. Watson, which the rest of the book explores from different viewpoints. Book One is divided into sections told by different characters-his neighbors, those people on the shore where he died and sections of his daughter Carrie's diary. Book Two is the story of Watson's son Lucius and his research into those responsible for his father's death. Along the way, he has to accept that the father he loved and adored was more and less than what he seemed. In Book Three, EJ Watson tells the story of his life and adventures, including all that led up to his death.Set in southwestern Florida for the most part, with forays into northern Florida, South Carolina and the Oklahoma Indian Territory, in the years following the Civil War into the 1920's, Mattiessen tells a tale about the settling of and taming of the Florida Everglades and, in the telling, you learn about the frontier spirit that founded our great country. With a smattering of famous figures including Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, Matthiessen's themes include the unrelenting racism displayed in this part of the country during that time, nature's power, poverty, class struggle, man vs. nature, man vs. man and man vs. himself. In the end EJ Watson, who should be a hated figure, gives us much to think about. He will certainly go down as one of the most fascinating and riveting characters ever developed. Highly recommended.
flashflood42 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't quite finished it because the third section seems repetitive but it's a fabulous novel. One never quite knows how to judge Mr. Watson who is seen through many eyes and ultimately tells the tale himself. It begins in 1910 with the killing of Mr. Watson by a small Florida group of settlers and looks at the lead up to this period through their many points of view. Second section focuses on Watson's youngest son Lucius from a third person point of view. Last section is Watson from his first person pov. Time span is Civil War and reconstruction til 1927 with main focus on Florida.
RJRutstein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have loved the writing of Peter Matthiessen for years. At Play in the Fields of the Lord was the first of his novels that I read, and it should be a classic (time will eventually tell as I am not the sole arbiter). Yet if viewed only as a novelist one gets less than a full picture. He has made a mark as a naturalist, journalist (in the sense of keeping and publishing a journal), travel writer and novelist. Among his recent non-fiction that I have enjoyed are The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, and End of Earth: Voyaging to Antarctica. With these outstanding books one begins to get a sense of the breadth of Matthiessen's work. But it is in the novel that Matthiessen truly explores the complexity of the human personality. And, in Edgar Watson, he gives us a character as richly drawn as Kazantzakis' St Francis or Christ or Doestoevsky's Raskolnikov; a character we can understand, one whose world may be as alien as a tropical rain-forest, but whose personality rings true.Shadow Country originally came into this world as three novels: Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River & Bone by Bone. Matthiessen, however, was never quite comfortable with them, as he did not feel they fulfilled his original vision for the story being told. The three novels sat for some time on my top shelf of books to read by favorite authors, and I started the first several time, but never quite got into the flow. When I ran across Shadow Country in a local independent book store I bought it and read it. As it runs to almost 900 pages it was not quite a one sitting novel. Also, if a book is 900 pages and I don't fully enjoy it, I don't finish it. Why waste the time. A short novel I will often finish if I feel it has potential. But Shadow Country grabbed me from the beginning, and held on.The novel is divided into three parts, roughly equivalent to the original, separate, three books. The first part begins with the death of Edgar J. Watson at the hands of locals, in the Florida Evergaldes in 1910, as they try to arrest him and turn him over to the law for murder. The killing of Watson is the point around which the whole novel is keyed. The first part of Shadow Country is told in bits by the people who knew him. Each contributes a piece here and there, as a detective might put together the stories of various witnesses to a life, thus getting an outline as seen by others. Reading this section one comes away with a profound sense of the contradictions that are the life of Edgar Watson. The people that loved him and the people that hated him all offer up the bits of his life they know, or the conjecture they have committed to. Everything that led to the death of Watson is laid bare. But Lucius Watson loved his father and cannot accept that his beloved father is the murderer people believed he was.The second part of Shadow Country is the story of Lucius, who, after fighting in WWI, returns to Florida, becomes a historian and tries to redeem his father's reputation. Years after his father's death Lucius tracks down friends, family, acquaintances, bringing up a past everyone wants to forget. The people who killed him fear retribution from a family member of a notorious killer. The family fear for their own reputations' ruin, as a past people have begun to forget comes festering out of their long buried memories. Lucius' own fears, that he may find a truth he doesn't want to hear; that he may be unable to face a truth about his own blind love for his father; that his own emotional turmoil and past as a WWI sharpshooter will lead him to a truth no one else will want to hear. Lucius' complex search is not just a search for his father's truth, but for his own murky past; a life as murky as the waters of the Everglades. As Lucius story nears its end we are still left with only a partial understanding of the man who is the central character. And it is
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and interesting tale of a sociopath trying to make it big in old Florida. The book is lengthy and repetitive and has as many characters as any Russian work. Most of whom suffer and cause suffering to an exhausting degree. Despite it's almost nihilistic portrayal of life on the frontier, the characters and plot lure the reader to read on to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago