HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
Loading...

Shadow Country (2008)

by Peter Matthiessen

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7022113,420 (4.04)106
None
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 106 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
about florida everglades
  greegood | Apr 16, 2014 |
I am in blood
Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

- Macbeth, 3.4.157-9.

Fabliau of Florida
Barque of phosphor
On the palmy beach,

Move outward into heaven,
Into the alabasters
And night blues.

Foam and cloud are one.
Sultry moon-monsters
Are dissolving.

Fill your black hull
With white moonlight.

There will never be an end
To this droning of the surf.

- Wallace Stevens

Peter Matthiessen, best-known for [The Snow Leopard], has written a blood-boiling, soul-searching novel in Shadow Country, which won the American National Book Award in 2008. Although first published as three separate novels, Matthiessen always intended the story to be a single edifice, and that it is. He was also dissatisfied with the middle book, saying it reminded him “not agreeably of the long belly of a dachshund, slung woefully between its upright sturdy legs.” Although in my opinion still the weakest part of the novel, the middle section still works well. More on that later, however. Let me first describe the story, which is based on real events. Matthiessen’s novel is a character-study of E.J. Watson, an infamous Florida sugarcane planter of the early twentieth century, who after many unsavoury incidents, was gunned down by his Chokoloskee neighbours under strange circumstances. Matthiessen has weaved a magnificent story from the disparate facts in the case of Watson, creating an engaging, revealing story about… well, about everything from greed, desperation, and insanity, to love, hope, and redemption.

The first part of the book consists of numerous voices relating Watson’s story from every conceivable angle. Each character who narrates the story reveals something about Watson, the times, and themselves as Matthiessen creates a brilliant collage of voices from the past. This first part is beautifully controlled, and Matthiessen is astoundingly good at capturing the diversity of characters. The suspicions of the people concerning Watson are carefully ratcheted up, until the final crescendo on a fateful day in 1910. Matthiessen is also great at describing the Florida coast, its lonely keys and hidden waterways. As one would expect, there is a great deal on the natural environment and its creatures. This creates an atmosphere of authenticity and verisimilitude that is rare in modern fiction. Matthiessen already uses this section to address his main themes, especially those of guilt, racism, and environmentalism.

The second part focusses on Watson’s son, Lucius, and his attempt to clear his father’s name. Lucius is an engaging character, yet also deeply flawed. He loves his father and the Florida coast, but he lacks the strength of conviction, and often allows events to spiral out of control, a problem which is exacerbated by his drinking. This section extends the story into the 1930s, with Lucius trying to find out as much about his father as possible. Matthiessen uses this premise to flesh out the story, adding lots of details to extant story from the first part. This part is very concerned with how families develop and become estranged, how they hide things from each and learn to cope with this history. I thought this part was also excellent, but Lucius is a bit too weak to carry the story as well as the multi-voice approach.

Matthiessen confronts this problem head-on in the third and final part, which is narrated by Watson himself. It spans the time from his birth to his death, and is absolutely brilliant. Engrossing, engrossing, I tell you, with Watson himself as a larger-than-life frontiersman, desperado and rounded human being providing the impetus to a story of sound and fury. Yet it signifies much, despite Watson’s ignominious end. Watson is one of the most realised characters that I have ever encountered in a novel. He is at times funny, harsh, evil, good, greedy, compassionate… the adjectives pile up without quite catching the living, breathing Watson. I loved this section the most; it was the best-written, best-conceived part of the novel, and convinced me totally.

As anyone can see, I am very excited by, and enamoured of, Matthiessen’s masterpiece. This is the stuff of writer’s envy, but also of inspiration. (The claim that it is too long is merely silliness; I was left wanting more). I will certainly be reading it again, and will be looking out for Matthiessen’s other books. ( )
8 vote dmsteyn | Jan 29, 2013 |
I need to finish this book, it's too long ( )
  jules_verne | May 20, 2012 |
Shortly after I read this novel the Trevon Martin killing took place in Florida. Inevitably my thoughts turned to the Florida portrayed by Matthiessen and how much it seemed to have in common with the Florida of today. "Stand your ground" could easily describe the code by which the protagonist is reared, with the same result, of killings which may, or may not, be ascribed to valid self defense. I do not mean to imply that George Zimmerman resembles Watson in being a man of inveterate violence, merely that the racist heritage of the American South, the levels of violence and the resulting deaths are a barometer of how, as William Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Matthiessen's work was originally planned as a longer novel, published as a trilogy, then cut to form the current version. The protagonist, E. J. Watson, is killed within the first few pages, gunned down by a group of his neighbors who may be regarded as either a posse or lynch mob. The first volume Killing Mr. Watson, gives each member of the community a voice. Lost Man's River is devoted to his adult son's attempt to discover what kind of man his father had been, and Book 3 is comprised of Watson's own account of his life.Like most American's I am not familiar with the details of state history for any state other than the one I grew up in. Of Florida I knew only the broad outlines of Spanish settlement, Indian wars, early 20th century land boom, environmental battles over killings of native birds for their plumage and drainage of the Everglades, and of course, the role of Cape Canaveral (Kennedy) in the space race. Of more contemporary Florida my "knowledge" is shaped more by "Miami Vice" and "CSI Miami" than by any actual study. My experience in two short visits to the state was mainly of the exotic plants growing on freeway abutments, ficus trees that in California are potted plants sheltering flocks of parrots and signs near lakes or canals warning of alligators. But then, I imagine the average Floridian knows about the same amount about California. Watson is a young boy when the Civil War begins, living in South Carolina, and dies at 55 in South Florida. His life is one of blighted promise, as he beaten severely by his father, with the result that he lives with brain damage that accounts for his lapsing into mindless rages in later life. He is heir to a culture that regards family ties as superior to common morality and personal slights and threats as justification to attack or kill the offender. Therefore Watson is drawn into violence and feuds against his better judgement and acquires a reputation for violence that follows him wherever he tries to make a new start. Yet Watson is not an innocent--he kills ruthlessly when thwarted in his plans; these killings lead to others, until the spiral of violence leads to his death at the hands of neighbors too frightened to merely arrest him and turn him over for trial. Watson is located in a time and place formed by violence. Rich men are able to rent convicts from the state to lay railroad or dig canals. Those who die from disease or ill treatment are buried in the wilderness with no accounting required. Earlier, of course, the Native Americans had been driven into the swamps that whites regarded as not worth the fight. The resources of the country had been carelessly exploited--sickening passages recount the devastation of egret colonies by plume hunters, who killed the adult birds and left the nestlings to starve and rot in the subtropical sun. Alligators were also the victims of fashion, thousands killed for their hides. Off the coast, acres of clam beds were dredged up, the clams canned and shipped to northern markets, until the industry died with the exhaustion of the beds. In this land, Watson attempts to build an estate based on growing sugar and manufacturing cane syrup. Other settlers hunt or fish, grow cane, fish or guide tourists, hunt egrets or alligators in a frontier area in which law and order is hardly established. Much of the land is impassible and many areas can be reached only by sea, until roads and railroads are driven through the area at the beginning of the 20th century. But the countless islands and inlets of South Florida are not the only shadow country in America. California was shaped by Spanish conquest and exploitation of the Native Americans. The Forty-niners and later pioneers nearly destroyed the remaining tribes. California students learn the story of Ishi, the last of his band, who was taken in by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber after being found nearly starved following the wanton destruction of his mother's home, tools and food supply by a party of surveyors. The wretched treatment of Chinese laborers, imported to build the railroads, the water wars, exploitation of farm labor, both the Okies who fled the Dust Bowl and the Mexican braceros who replaced them, all are dark marks on the history of the state. However, every state has a shadow of violence and of violent men moving from one home to another, sometimes to attempt a new start, sometimes to continue lawless ways in a new area. This is our national legend: Indian wars, cattlemen vs. settlers, Man vs. Nature, using up resources and moving on in the assurance that there was always more, more beaver in the next valley, more gold in the next gold rush, more trees to cut, more buffalo to kill, more passenger pigeons, more rich soil over the next mountain range. Matthiessen centers this story in one area, around the story of one man. Faulkner build his shadow country in his native Mississippi, John Steinbeck in the valleys and along the coast of California. These authors and many others are necessary counterweights to the mindless booster-ism that proclaims America as God's chosen nation, its sins few and its virtues uncountable, its systems of governance and economics the best ever devised.
  ritaer | Mar 21, 2012 |
The thing that most strikes me about this book is the unique way that is told. The author always intended for it to be told as one novel, but it was originally released as three separate novels. In this final version,
[Shadow Country], the entire story is told as all one novel. The first third of the novel is told through the eyes of EJ Watson's neighbors about their rememberances of him, which are mostly shrouded in innuendo. The second third are told through the eyes of his son, which are mostly shrouded through filial love. Finally, the shadows of biased perspective are removed and we get a truer glimpse of Watson in the final third of the book, which is told by Watson from his own perspective.

Adding to the intrigue of this book is that there really was an EJ Watson who was gunned down bay his neighbors near Chokoloskee, Florida in 1910. Much of the book is based on the little that is known about the real man with Matthiessen filling in the rest from the muse of the fiction writer's imagination. Throwing in a dose of regional history and some allusions to [The Illiad], Matthiessen crafts a work that sparks consideration in the reader of the power that perspective, bias, changing circumstance have on how we perceive the world. All in all, I found this to be well worth reading. ( )
  fuzzy_patters | Nov 19, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
To sum it up in a few words is impossible since its interest lies in the ambition of storytelling and inevitability of story.
 
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without so much a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundre-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before. -- Jacob Riis
Dedication
With love to my brother Carey and my ever dear Maria
First words
Sea birds are aloft again, a tattered few.
Quotations
Plume hunters shoot early in the breeding season when egret plumes are coming out real good. When them nestlings get pinfeathered, and squawking loud cause they are always hungry, them parent birds lose the little sense God give 'em. They are going to come in to tend their young no matter what, and a man using one of them Flobert rifles that don't snap no louder than a twig can stand there under the trees in a big rookery and pick them birds off as fast as he can reload. . . . A broke-up rookery, that ain't a picture you want to think about too much. The pile of carcasses left behind when you strip the plumes and move on to the next place is just pitiful, and it's a piss-poor way to harvest, cause there ain't no adults left to feed them young and protect 'em from the sun and rain. let alone the crows and buzzards that come sailing and flopping in, tear 'em to pieces. A real big rookery like that one the Frenchman worked up on Tampa Bay had four-five hundred acres of black mangrove, maybe ten nests to a tree. Might take you three-four years to clean it out but after that them birds are gone for good. . . . It's the dead silence after all the shooting that comes back today, though I never stuck around to hear it; I kind of remember it when I am dreaming. Them ghostly trees on dead white guano ground, the sun and silence and dry stink, the squawking and flopping of their wings, and varmints hurrying in without no sound, coons, rats, and possums, biting and biting, and the ants flowing up all them white trees in their dark ribbonds to eat at the scrawny things that's backed up to the edge of the nest, gullets pushing and mouths open wide for the food and water that ain't never going to come. Luckiest ones will perish before something finds 'em, cause they's so many young that the carrion birds just can't keep up. Damn vultures set hunched up on them dead limbs so stuffed and stupid they can't hardly fly.

Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081298062X, Paperback)

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 the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout. In Shadow Country, he has marvelously distilled a monumental work, realizing his original vision.

Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors who mostly admired him, in a killing that obsessed his favorite son.

Shadow Country
traverses strange landscapes and frontier hinterlands inhabited by Americans of every provenance and color, including the black and Indian inheritors of the archaic racism that, as Watson’s wife observed, "still casts its shadow over the nation."

Peter Matthiessen’s lyrical and illuminating work in the Watson narrative has been praised highly by such contemporaries as Saul Bellow, William Styron, and W. S. Merwin. Joseph Heller said "I read it in great gulps, up each night later than I wanted to be, in my hungry impatience to find out more and more."

Praise for Shadow Country
Shadow Country is altogether gripping, shocking, and brilliantly told, not just a tour de force in its stylistic range, but a great American novel, as powerful a reading experience as nearly any in our literature. This magnificent, sad masterpiece about race, history, and defeated dreams can easily stand comparison with Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Little wonder, too, that parts of the story of E.J. Watson call up comparisons with Dostoevsky, Conrad, and, inevitably, Faulkner. In every way, Shadow Country is a bravura performance, at once history, fiction, and myth–as well as the capstone to the career of one of the most admired and admirable writers of our time.” — The New York Review of Books

“Magnificent and capacious…. I'll just say right here that the book took my sleeve and like the ancient mariner would not let go. Matthiessen has made his three-part saga into a new thing…. Finally now we have these books welded like a bell, and with Watson's song the last sound, all the elements fuse and resonate….a breathtaking saga.”The Los Angeles Times

Gorgeously written and unfailingly compelling, Shadow Country is the exhilarating masterwork of [Matthiessen’s] career, every bit as ambitious as Moby Dick.” — National Geographic Adventure magazine

“Peter Mattiessen consolidates his epic masterpiece of Florida -- and crafts something even better…[He] deserves credit for decades of meticulous research and obsessive details and soaring prose that converted the Watson legend into critically acclaimed literature….Anyone wanting an explanation for what happened to Florida can now find it in a single novel, a great American novel.” — Miami Herald

“Matthiessen is writing about one man's life in Shadow Country, but he is also writing about the life of the nation over the course of half a century. Watson's story is essentially the story of the American frontier, of the conquering of wild lands and people, and of what such empires cost….Even among a body of work as magnificent as Matthiessen's, this is his great book.” — St. Petersburg Times

Shadow Country is a magnum opus. Matthiessen is meticulous in creating characters, lyrical in describing landscapes, and resolute in dissecting the values and costs that accompanied the development of this nation.” --Seattle Times

“Shadow Country” is an ambitious, lasting, and meaningful work of literature that will not soon fade away. It is a testament to Mr. Matthiessen’s integrity as an artist that he felt compelled to return to the Watson material to produce this work and satisfy his original vision….a multifaceted work that can be read variously or simultaneously as a psychological novel, a historical novel, a morality tale, a political allegory, or a mystery. -- East Hampton Star

“Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy is a touchstone of modern American literature…this reworking…is remarkable….Where Watson was a magnificent character before, he comes across as nothing short of iconic here; it’s difficult to find another figure in American literature so thoroughly and confincingly portrayed.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review, Pick of the Week
“Matthiessen has reinvigorated and rejoined the trilogy’s novels…a mosaic about the life and lynch-mob death of a turn-of-the century Florida Everglades sugar planter and serial killer named E. J. Watson — into the 900-plus-page Shadow Country. This is no mere repackaging: Four hundred pages were cut from the novels, previous background characters now tromp to the foreground, and the books’ rangy, Faulknerian essence is rendered more digestible. Deliciously digestible, that is; this is a thick porterhouse of a novel.” — Men’s Journal
"The fiction of Peter Matthiessen is the reason a lot of people in my generation decided to be writers. No doubt about it. SHADOW COUNTRY lives up to anyone's highest expectations for great writing." -- Richard Ford
"Peter Matthiessen is a brilliantly gifted and ambitious writer, an inspired anatomist of the American mythos. His storytelling skills are prodigious and his rapport with his subject is remarkable." -- Joyce Carol Oates
"Peter Matthiessen's work, both in fiction and non-fiction, has become a unique achievement in his own generation and in American literature as a whole. Everything that he has written has been conveyed in his own clear, deeply informed, elegant and powerful prose. The Watson saga-in-the-round, to which he has devoted nearly thirty years, is his crowning achievement. SHADOW COUNTRY, his distillation of the earlier trilogy, is his transmutation of it to represent his original vision. It is the quintessence of his lifelong concerns, and a great legacy." -- W.S. Merwin


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:17 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors who mostly admired him, in a killing that obsessed his favorite son.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
1 avail.
260 wanted
3 pay5 pay

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.04)
0.5 1
1 2
1.5
2 4
2.5 2
3 16
3.5 2
4 25
4.5 14
5 35

Audible.com

Two editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 89,566,086 books! | Top bar: Always visible