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Janet Burroway[A] project of enormous ambition. . . .[a] perfect ear for the cadences of Southern speech.
—New York Times Book Review
Lost Man's River is the second of a trilogy of novels by Peter Matthiessen about southwest Florida in the early part of this century. Matthiessen is clearly fascinated by the hard-drinking, independent, violent fishermen, gator hunters and sugar planters of the time and place. He focuses here on E.J. Watson, also known as "Bloody" Watson -- a leading Florida planter reputed to have committed several murders, who is finally murdered in turn by a posse of his neighbors' friends. Like most of the rumors concerning this legendary figure, the tale is vague and contradictory, and E.J.'s son Lucius makes it his life's work to sort out exactly who killed his father and why.
Lucius, who loved and admired his father, is also out to prove that E.J. never really did any of the awful things attributed to him -- although this is a manifestly untenable position. Still, he goes around interviewing and reinterviewing those who knew the guy, and a picture quickly emerges of a powerful, dynamic, appealing, capricious, brutal figure -- part man and part legend.
The problem with all this is that the interviews are so much alike that it's hard for the reader to share Lucius' level of interest. We get one story after another of Watson's misdeeds, or of his charm, or of the early life of his sidekick, Leslie Cox, and it keeps adding up to the same picture every time. Furthermore, the interviewees are so much alike that I gave up trying to keep them straight. Most of them are related to one another and to Lucius somehow, but their fascination with every reclaimed twig of the family tree, every date of birth and every shadowy photograph is hard to share. In the author's note, Matthiessen tells us that the book is based on a real E.J. Watson who "has been reimagined from the few hard facts -- census and marriage records, dates on gravestones, and the like." But we don't need to participate in every shred of that historical research with Lucius as a stand-in for the author. If Matthiessen wants to tell the story of Watson, let him go ahead and tell it! That would make a novel I'd be happy to read.
The book does offer a few present-time plots -- a new romance for Lucius and a rediscovered one; a reunion with a long lost brother; an unlikely kidnapping. But even these events feel mechanical and aren't particularly engaging. There is, as always with Matthiessen, some terrific writing, and the evocation of the tangle of Florida history and myth and swampland can be potent, but there is only one section of the book -- a letter to Lucius from his brother Rob -- where event and style and theme come together in a powerful and seamless bit of narrative. This letter shows what the novel might have been had it been conceived not as an intricate, mosaic meditation on the meaning of legend and history, but, in keeping with the title, as a strong, irresistible river of story. -- Salon
Matthiessen's (African Silences) latest is in many ways a sequel to his 1990 novel, Killing Mister Watson. In that work, the violent, vigorous figure of Edgar Watson dominated the action. A settler in the still-wild Everglades in the early years of the century, Edgar, with his reputation as a killer, was both respected and feared by his neighbors. Then, in 1910, died during a confrontation with a posse. But who actually fired the fatal shot? Had Edgar fired first? And was he in fact a murderer? His son Lucius, an academic, has tried repeatedly to escape from his father's lengthy shadow. Once again, in the '50s, Lucius is drawn reluctantly back into the struggle to puzzle out what his father was when a cache of documents about him comes to light. In the company of some of his father's cronies and a few of his bitter enemies, all of them old men nursing grudges and powerful recollections of frontier days in the Everglades, Lucius travels ever deeper into the wilderness. Along the way he hears some extraordinary tales about the lives of the local farmers, hunters, smugglers, and moonshiners, assembles a moving portrait of the destruction of the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades, and finally discovers the painful, complex truth about his father's life and death. Lucius' long, complex relationship with his father's memory is brilliantly handled, as is the portrait of the fate of the Everglades, its wildlife, and its tough, idiosyncratic inhabitants. Interweaving a lament for the lost wilderness, a shrewd, persuasive study of character, and a powerful meditation on the sources of American violence, Matthiessen has produced one of the best novels of recent years.
Posted August 27, 2012
Not far from the first training area is a soft sandy beach next a pond. The pond is filled with fish and is not extremly deep. Here queens can teach their kits to swim or mentors can teach apprentices how to fish. Or cats can just swim or bask on the warm rocks around it. -RipplestarWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 4, 2002