Shadow Country
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Shadow Country (Shadow Country Trilogy #1-3)

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  2,354 ratings  ·  464 reviews
2008 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER

Peter Matthiessen’s great American epic–Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone–was conceived as one vast mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken up into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has cut nearly a third of the overall text and collapsed the time frame while deepening th...more
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Published August 19th 2008 by Modern Library (first published 2008)
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Mike
Shadow Country: Peter Matthiessen's New Rendering of the Watson Legend

 photo Watsonolder_zps4e1b6701.jpg
Edgar Artemas Watson (1855-1910)

For seventeen days I was held enthralled by Shadow Country. Once I began it, I was unable to stop. Nothing could have pulled me away from it.

"A New Rendering of the Watson Legend" happens to be the subtitle of Peter Matthiessen's 2008 National Book Award winning novel. The operative word in that subtitle is Legend.

A legend is a story founded in truth, indigenous to the people residing in the re...more
Bruce
In the early 1990s, Peter Matthiessen wrote his Watson trilogy, a 1400 page work that his publishers, to his discomfort, insisted on publishing in three volumes. Never satisfied with the work, feeling that it was disjointed and insufficiently integrated, Matthiessen began a number of years ago revising and extensively reworking the story, modifying it apparently significantly, and he published the new work last year as Shadow Country. I never read the trilogy – indeed, the only Matthiessen work...more
Christopher


Here lies Edgar Artemas Watson.

The book opens on a scene of destruction: a hurricane has ravaged the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida. A posse of Watson's neighbors forms and on the ruined beach they kill Watson as he arrives on shore. The end of this man's life marks the beginning of this epic story. The duty of the rest of the almost 900 pages of this book is to answer these questions: who is Watson and why was he killed? Was it a just or unjust death? Who did he leave behind? Was he a m...more
Chrissie
As you probably know if you have skimmed the book description, the author has in Shadow Country put all three of his earlier books about Watson into one. The first section expresses the views of all the diverse people who knew Watson. The second is his youngest son's view of his father and his life, and now finally in the third section we hear Watson's own version. Third time around, all this feels rather repetitive! Third time around is rather boring, even if the picture is further clarified. C...more
Tony
Wow.

Shadow Country is a searing dissection of turn of the century (circa 1880-1910) Everglades culture, history and character. The focal character is E.J. Watson, sugar cane planter, innovator, patriarch, murderer, and victim.

The novel is comprised of three 'books', all telling the story of the death of Watson from separate points of view: first, various people who witnessed and assessed the events at the time; second, one of Watson's sons, trying (maybe) to reconstruct Watson's life and crimes...more
Briynne
I swear I will never think of Florida the same again. Gone is my impression of an overly air conditioned world of old people wearing Bermuda shorts and long black socks. This book was brilliant and terrifying and drenched in blood. It’s set in the “Ten Thousand Islands” of the Florida Everglades beginning in the late 1800s when it was as lawless as the Wild West. The characters display frontier grit in spades and a vicious, poisonous breed of racism the likes of which I have never seen before. T...more
Sue
May 04, 2013 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of historical fiction
The fact that I read "Shadow Country" over a long period of time should not be taken as a negative reflection on the book, but I suppose my rating hints at that. This is a masterpiece, but one I chose to read slowly with breaks after each section. The story of Mister Watson, which begins on the last day of his life, is full of turn of the 20th century life, details of frontier life I'd never heard of before---that frontier being Florida.

Edgar Watson is many things to many people, but he is alwa...more
Blake
I am usually not a fan of National Book Award winners. And after reading Marilynne Robinson's "Home," I didn't think anything could top it. But they got it right this year. Matthiessen's trilogy is a book that (if I know anything about myself) will haunt me for a long time. It is one of the ten best novels I've ever read, and (as most of you know) I don't take ranking's lightly.

Of the three novels, I am fondest of the first--formerly published as Killing Mister Watson. Matthiessen's vernacular i...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I don't think I'll say I've abandoned this forever, but I definitely didn't finish it in January. It was the phenomenon that the farther in I got, the farther the end grew.
Oscar
‘País de sombras’ (Shadow Country, 2005), de Peter Mattiessen incluye juntas las tres novelas que forman la Trilogía Watson: ‘Killing Mister Watson’ (1990), ‘Lost Man’s River’ (1997) y ‘Bone by Bone’ (1999). Matthiessen decidió en 2005 publicarlas como un todo, ante la evidente estructura interna común. De esta manera ya no se trata de tres novelas independientes, sino de un todo que las entrelaza. Cada una de las partes sirve de complemento a la anterior, transformando la perspectiva del lector...more
Tim
892 pages. Peter Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard; The Tree where Man was Born; At Play in the Fields of the Lord). I shake my head.

I don't think I've come across a book where the writing was so apparently brilliant - disciplined and careful, dialogue true to each character, imaginative - while the subject matter was so unrelentingly raw, rough, and dark. At the end of the read, I was both in awe of this writer's command of storytelling, and fearful of where he might be in his view of the world at...more
Melody
Shadow Country is actually three books rewritten and meant to be read together to get the whole story of Edgar J. Watson. He was a real plantation owner, one of the early settlers in the area now known as the Everglades. There are many rumors about his life and his death. This book is the fictionalized account of the myths and truths of the man and his family.

It’s a damn long book and sometimes I didn’t care if I got the truth. But that was mainly because I was ready to move on to something els...more
Janet
Webster's defines truth as a noun referring to 'the quality of being true, genuine, actual, or factual' - a static commodity in short supply in this bloated trilogy depicting the life, times and death of E.J. Watson. The first volume told from the vantage point of family, neighbors, legally emancipated but indentured slaves, lawmakers and others is by turns hearsay, storytelling, myth - all steeped in fear. Volume two has us pad along in the footsteps of his tortured son, Lucius as he chases the...more
Karen
3 books(2 stars, 2 stars, and 4 stars) rewritten into 1 long book. The 1st book sets up the tragic fiction character and is a tedious read with a lot of characters that are difficult to remember. The 2nd book is less tedious but also less entertaining. The 3rd book brings it all together; the fiction story that is used to bring in the history, and the total tragedy of the character, Florida, and the country as a whole. The story incorporates the sad, uneducated Scots and other poor whites that i...more
Nelly


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 lugged this book around everywhere and read it whenever I had a moment to spare. I did not want it to end.

The author's note...more
Andrea
Apr 16, 2012 Andrea rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like beautiful obsessions
Shelves: favorites, fiction
Peter Mathiessen has taken his Watson trilogy novels and rewritten them into a gigantic work of obsessive brilliance.

I was absolutely enthralled by the convergence of perspectives in this story of the infamous Mr. Watson. For those who didn't know, Watson really existed. A pioneering Everglades planter with a shady background, he was murdered by a mob of his friends and neighbors in Chokoloskee, Florida in the early 19oo's. This novel is not so much a fictionalised account of the events, but an...more
Tim
"Shadow Country" is one of those books I describe as "nearly great." (For our purposes here, that would translate to 4.5 stars if the rating system allowed). I owned the first book in the original trilogy that this book distills/subtracts from/adds upon, but never read it. I suspect I'm not missing a lot, as good as this novel is.

Matthiessen comes at the story of turn-of-the-century southwest Florida legend Edgar Watson from all angles -- in Book I, first-person narratives that don't include Wat...more
Caroline
This book is based on the true story of a Florida planter and outlaw, E.J. Watson, who was murdered by his neighbours; it was originally a trilogy and Matthiessen reworked and condensed it to produce this version. It was entirely an accident that I ended up reading this whilst in Florida, given that it's set in the Florida back-country at the turn of the century. It really seemed to add to the atmosphere, being in and around the same places mentioned in the book, smelling the mangrove swamps and...more
Kathy Ahn
I really loved this book. I didn't know anything about the Watson legend before I started reading it, but it didn't matter. It's formatted as a trilogy so you hear mostly the same story from different points of view -- when I say it like that it sounds repetitive, but Matthiessen did a good job of not making it laborious. In fact, each of the three major parts gives you more information about the story you heard in the section before.

Edgar Watson, I guess true to what they say about his real lif...more
William Ramsay
Shadow Country won the National Book award this year, but I don't think it should have. The book is a rewrite of three novels Matthiessen published about 30 years ago. He claims he dropped about 400 pages from the original, but in my mind 400 was not enough. The book could easily have been about half as long as it is (over 900 pages).

The story revolves around one E.J.Watson who was a planter in the Florida keys with a storied, violent past. Out of fear of him, his neighbors one day assassinate h...more
Sharon Watkins
This remarkable book is described by Peter Matthiessen as the story of "one man's obsessive self-destruction, set against the historical background of slavery and civil war,imperialism, and the rape of land and life under the banner of industrial progress." It is the story of Ed Watson, would-be sugar baron of southwest Florida in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a man so burdened by hard luck and misfortune and so driven to succeed that he became blinded to the catastrophic consequences...more
Martin
I'm just a bit up and down on this one, ending to the 'up' of middle.

The author's approach is to describe one fictonal EJ Watson's life from several perspecties, essentially written in three sections. They were originally three seperate books, and combined/sshirtened into this form. The first section weaves in and out of several different people who describe key events in Watson's life. The second section is written in his 'favorite' son's voice, the son who desperately tried to understand what...more
Bill
This is a work of historical fiction about the life and death of an actual figure, E.J. Watson, who was killed by an angry mob in the Florida Everglades in October of 1910.

Epic in nature, the novel covers the time period of the reconstruction through the great depression. Readers will be made well acquainted with the horrid state of race relations during that period of time, the reconstruction, institutional small-town injustice (which led to institutionalized lynch mob "justice"), the history...more
Cicely
Really loved the subject matter/setting. I think turn of the century Florida is a completely underrepresented time period for novels. Like the wild west but with a twist of Everglades/crocodile & egret hunting/slavery, etc. I really liked how the story was told three different times from three different perspectives. This book was originally published as three separate novels, but I really liked it all together. But if you're looking for 900 pages of totally new and unexpected plot, this is...more
Rick
Shadow Country (2008) is a re-rendering of Matthiessen’s three volume Mister Watson series, Killing Mr. Watson (1990), Lost Man’s River (1997), and Bone by Bone (1999). On Charlie Rose and elsewhere, Matthiessen has pointed out that the work began as one very large novel, so large in fact that he chopped it into three to facilitate its publication, only he didn’t feel right about the separation so he went back to work on it to make it work as a single volume novel. He cut and he rewrote over sev...more
Leslie
The structure of this is very good. We start by looking at Watson from the outside, in a series of masterful fragments in the voices of those who knew him or had contact with him or heard about him; then we move a little closer, as his son Lucius spends his life in search of the truth about his father; finally, the whole story is narrated by Watson himself, so we move inside of him to experience the inner life of a man who has proved bafflingly hard to know from every other angle. At every point...more
ScottK
I just did not get it....I mean I tried really I did. But I came up lacking. I believe my biggest problem was the way it was written. I think that the important parts of book three could have been incorporated into books 1 and 2. For me, there was just way too much repetition. Having said that if I were to rate based on the three individual books, I would have given book 1 3 stars Book 2 most likely would have gotten 3 as well, but the third was just ......meh so that would have been a 2.

I did e...more
Ryan
This is the fiction National Book Award winner for this year. Though daunting in size, this book is thoroughly enjoyable and readable. The setting is unique--backcountry Everglades farm communities around the turn of the 20th century. It's a long one (~800 pgs), and I just finished "book one" (of three). It's about the life and eventual murder (don't worry, that's not a spoiler) of a shady plantation owner/outlaw, E.J. Watson, except you never hear the story from his perspective, only from other...more
Sridhar
An exceedingly well-written book on a spectacular canvas. I liked everything about it, the cover, the feel, the cadence of the writing, the undercurrents of history, both ecological and human. A brilliant portrayal of a story from at least three different angles, corresponding to the three books packed into this reworked edition: as the neighbours and workers see Watson, as his son Lucius sets out to discover with brother Rob about their father, as his own story. Despite the ~900 page length, I...more
Rachelle Urist
A long (almost 800 pages) but brilliant exploration of Bloody Watson, a legendary outlaw in the Florida Everglades at the turn of the 20th century. The book is divided into 3 parts, and the story is told from many points of view. Book one has many points of view - various family members, friends, neighbors. Book two is told from the favorite son's pov. Book three is told from the pov of Watson himself. He was a man more sinned against than sinning, and his story expands our knowledge of American...more
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Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories, in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A co-founder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer and activist, he died in April 2014.
More about Peter Matthiessen...
The Snow Leopard In the Spirit of Crazy Horse At Play in the Fields of the Lord In Paradise Killing Mister Watson

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“This world is painted on a wild dark metal” 9 likes
“From the first day I met his daughter, all I could think about was snuffling up under that sweet dimity like some bad old bear, just crawling up into that honeycomb, nose twitching, and never come out of there till early spring. Think that’s disgusting? Dammit, I do, too, but that’s the way male animals are made. Those peculiar delights were created to entrap us, and anybody who disapproves can take it up with God.

In their wondrous capacity of knowing the Lord’s mind, churchly folks will tell you that He would purely hate to hear such dirty talk. My idea is, He wouldn’t mind it half so much as they would have us think, because even according to their own queer creed, we are God’s handiwork, created in His image, lust, piss, shit, and all. Without that magnificent Almighty lust that we mere mortals dare to call a sin, there wouldn’t be any more mortals, and God’s grand design for the human race, if He exists and if He ever had one, would turn to dust, and dust unto dust, forever and amen. Other creatures would step up and take over, realizing that man was too weak and foolish to properly reproduce himself. I nominate hogs to inherit the Earth, because hogs love to eat any old damned thing God sets in front of them, and they’re ever so grateful for God’s green earth even when it’s all rain and mud, and they just plain adore to feed and fuck and frolic and fulfill God’s holy plan. For all we know, it’s hogs which are created in God’s image, who’s to say?”
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