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Shadow Country (Shadow Country Trilogy #1-3)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  3,756 Ratings  ·  606 Reviews

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
Hardcover, Modern Library, 892 pages
Published April 8th 2008 by Modern Library (first published 2008)
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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
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

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
Aug 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: Christopher
E. Watson, The Decemberists

My copy of this book is 892 pages, and I understand the original manuscript was like 1300 pages. And then the Decembrists basically sum up Matthiessen's story in less than four minutes.

Just sayin.

This very large book is actually comprised of three separate novels (Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone), but each of the novels basically tell the same story from someone else's perspective. This is actually pretty brilliant because you don't actually f
Apr 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Brad Lyerla
Apr 28, 2015 rated it liked it
The historical Edgar J. Watson (1855-1910) was a drunken murderer, bully, philanderer, cheat and conniving so and so. He was a pioneering settler of the southwest coast of Florida in the final decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.

He had an out-sized reputation as a desperado. He was thought to have killed Belle Starr, the Oklahoma territory outlaw, and was the subject of a dime store novel based on the legend of her demise. Although he was never charged, it seems clear tha
Aug 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Apr 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
‘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
Nov 20, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 22, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, us, 21-ce
I read Killing Mr Watson when it was published in the early 1990s, but did not realize then how much William Faulkner's Snopes Trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion) was a major model for Mathiessen. There are a number of similarities between the works. First and foremost is the use of multiple first-person narrators speaking in dialect. Dialect in narration is notorious for slowing the reader down, since one usually has to spend time sounding out each phoneme. That's not the case here. ...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.
Nov 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this thoroughly absorbing historical novel which is similar in some ways to those by E. L. Doctorow. However, while skillfully written, Shadow Country does not reach the artistic excellence of Invisible Man or All the King’s Men, a comparison made by The New York Review of Books.

Matheissen provides a fascinating look at late 19th and early 20th century SW Florida, particularly the everglades and Ten Thousand Islands region. We get details on the flora, fauna, and early settlers. We get
Scott Munden
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Someone, somewhere wrote about “Shadow Country” that “this is it… the ‘Great American Novel.’” It made me think about the never ending discourse surrounding the GAN, which has always struck me as somewhat odd. It’s one part Holy Grail quest and the other part a reflection of America’s unease – at least where art is concerned – that its achievements just might not be good enough. I’ve never bothered paying too much attention to the discourse since I've never trusted categories that contain the wo ...more
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
"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
Kathy Ahn
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
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
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
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Una historia, tres novelas, todas de estilos muy diferentes y todas maravillosas.

Mientras leía “País de sombras” me pregunta a menudo qué había en la prosa de este hombre para que me estuviera gustando tanto. A estas alturas, sigo sin saber exactamente qué debe tener una forma de narrar para que me llegue más profundamente que otras. En esta fantástica novela veía las palabras que forman frases enlazadas en párrafos que constituyen los capítulos y me parecía simple, fácil y maravilloso. Por sup
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
Read this novel! Absolutely fascinating account of life along the Florida Everglades gulf coast and development in the late-19th and early-20th centuries through the eyes and actions of the real-life character of Edgar Watson. This is one of those rare novels where it is truly difficult to sort out your own feelings for the plot's main protagonist. Sometimes you love him, and sometimes he is a real bastard. Just like like each of us, Edgar is a flawed character; and Mattiesson invests much of th ...more
Aaron Million
Apr 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Matthiessen's work here is really three books rolled into one. He rewrote his earlier Watson trilogy, and combined all three aspects into one book. Despite this, he labels the three distinct parts as Books I, II, and III.

Book I is a culmination of diary entries/deposition-type statements by many of the people that came into contact with Edgar Watson in SW Florida, with many of the people being the ones who participated in the mass shooting/lynching that ended Watson's life.

Book II is about the
Jul 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing

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
May 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
William Ramsay
Dec 20, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
A long novel. Same story told three times from three different perspectives. Main character, E. J. Watson, is a really bad guy that you really want (almost) to like. This is a third iteration of this story. The first try was a single novel of over 1,500 pages that didn’t get published. Next try: published as three separate novels. Third try: recomposed as a single novel, whittled down to approximately 900 pages, and wins the Pulitzer Prize. I liked reading about E.J. Watson. I have always enjoye ...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.
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Other Books in the Series

Shadow Country Trilogy (3 books)
  • Killing Mister Watson
  • Lost Man's River
  • Bone by Bone

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“This world is painted on a wild dark metal” 15 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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