Dubin's Reviews > Shadow Country

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
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's review
May 27, 2009

liked it
Read in March, 2009

Really interesting read, but I wish I had read it as three books instead of one collected book.

The gimmick of the book is that it essentially retells the same story three times, the life and death of real-life Florida sugar-baron E.J. Watson.

The first book tells the story from the perspective of Watson's neighbors. All unreliable, they sketch the outlines of his life and the events leading up to his death. Yet we never hear from the man himself.

The second book follows Watson's son as he tries to piece together what really happened to his father. We follow him in a third person narration as he pieces his father's life together while trying to live his own.

The third book is the one I was waiting for, as it finally tells Watson's story from his own perspective. But I find myself unable to get through it. First of all, it begins with his childhood, and while I'm interested in what formed him, ultimately I want to read his take on things I've already seen. Secondly, Matthiessen is a fantastic writer, but he's also deliberate and slow. He spends pages describing scenery and setting scenes, and after 500 pages of this, I don't need to have another alligator described to me.

All that said, it's a fascinating look into turn of the century America, as the country sloughed off the last of its frontier mentality and became "civilized."

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