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Shadow Country

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2009

    Matthiessen is Rembrandt with a typewriter

    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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2010

    Book of the Decade

    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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen is a tour de force

    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.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2009

    Shadow Country - Quick to Draw by Adam

    "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.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2009

    An all-time favorite.

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2011

    Highly recommended

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 26, 2011


    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2009

    A Literary Monument of Florida

    Peter Matthiessen's great novel Shadow Country, the compressed och reshaped one-volume version of his three volumes in the Watson trilogy from the 1990s, has received so overwhelmingly positive praise for this final gigantic tome, that you may question the meaningfulness of adding something to the glorifying choir. Is this really a candidate to that much coveted title: The Great American Novel, that has been proposed by some reviewers?
    I think there will always be readers finishing this 890 pages long novel with a feeling that this is one of the most intensely fascinating och purposeful books they ever read. It is undoubtedly a stunning project Matthiessen has undertaken. What person has been the object of such a penetrating writing as the legendary planter and killer E.J Watson from Florida, the only one owing a house in the Everglades: first three long novels and now this great compression, hovering over the whole project? Matthiessen must have been obsessed by this almost mythical figure, whose dark and puzzling destiny he so thoroughly tries to clarify.
    Readers who like modern, intricate novels may perhaps not be so captivated by Matthiessen's slowly progressing narration with its often classical epic character, full of plain telling and illustrative details. This is Homeros in the prose epic line of our days, this is the historical books of the Old Testment, or the Icelandic sagas. It is very much written in the Tolstoyan tradition. In the main, Matthiessen seems to be a writer more interested in his characters, the principal ones as well as the smaller roles, and in the scheme of actions and events they are involved in, than he is in the literary language in itself, and its possibilities of artful creation. As an epic writer he is distinguished and exemplary, even though sometimes I found the story a bit too circumstantial and phlegmatic.
    But that is not the whole truth. The novel is divided into three books, and particularly the first one is enormously skilfully written: persons concerned with the life of Watson are telling their fragments of memories in their own popular or dialectic language. This is no doubt more in the Faulknerian tradition; even though Matthiessen is mostly far from Faulkner, his circling possession of Watson's enigmatical och always escaping fate has a lot in common with the driving force behind Faulkner's stories as well as Faulkner's literary technique.
    Matthiessen is especially of aesthetic delight in his suggestive and lyrical descriptions of nature and landscape. In this novel Florida and the Everglades get its literary monument in a prose epic, where man and nature, man in interplay with the forces of nature, are depicted in all colours between dazzling light and darkest tragedy. The magnificent end of the novel, where the telling is dissolved into short, thinly spread fragments of prose, concludes with the enigma of human life, as the story unmasks it, expressed in a poetical line: "this world is painted on a wild dark metal."
    Melville's Moby Dick, Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Updike's Rabbit Saga - well, it's probable among these outstanding works Matthiessen's Shadow Country will be classified. It is a great novel of Florida, but also, as a whole, of the U.S.A. with its turbulent history of blood and violence, lynching and destruction, and, finally, it is a lasting emblem of man's fate in an indescribably chaotic world.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Original,Masterful, an Unbelievable Achievement

    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.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2014

    Highly Recommended

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    A unique way of telling a story; multiple perspectives add layer

    A unique way of telling a story; multiple perspectives add layer upon layer to the story line

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    loved it


    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Long but Rewarding Read

    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.

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  • Posted January 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Not my kind of Story

    I found this book hard to follow and after the first 100 pages I have put it down and archived it on my nook. Maybe at a later date I will attempt it again.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2009


    Nat'l Book Award? Might have been good reading had 600 pages been left out. Repetitive, disjointed, annoying!!! I kept reading, thinking it would suddenly get interesting...but that was not to be! I was angry with myself for finishing it. What a waste of paper/trees! One of the worst books I've ever suffered through.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2009

    Excellent Read

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2011

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