Ben's Reviews > Shadow Country

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
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's review
Oct 26, 2009

Read in November, 2009

Perhaps the most brilliant meta-literary quality to this book is the way that Matthiessen manages to mimic his subject in his writing. In plain terms, starting this book is like stepping into the Florida swamps and getting lost. That's not necessarily a bad thing. There is a lot to like in this book. The writing is strong and often striking, the narrative is intriguing (if indirect), and Matthiessen's nuanced grasp of his themes is admirable. However, much like being lost in the wilderness, the reader frequently can't help but wonder where they are going and how long it will take to emerge from the bog.

I am, however, curious if this would have been more successful in its original three parts. I found it hard to maintain focus on the narrative when all three parts basically retell the same story from different points of view. In this Matthiessen acheives a strange effect - the reader almost feels as though each view point is a satellite, circling the same events but never actually approaching them. Although the last section is narrated by the anti-hero himself, the reader never really feels as though they've gotten inside the narrative. Rather, one feels as though it has been dictated. In some ways, this detachment is to the benefit of the novel, allowing Matthiessen to toy with notions of American legend, truth and storytelling. On the other hand, my God, this book is long.

Anyway, I can't rate this star-wise. I appreciate and admire it. I wanted it to end, and I have no desire to revisit it.

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