National Book Award, Fiction, 2008Inspired by a near-mythic event on the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the 20th century, Shadow Country re-imagines 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 transverses strange landscapes inhabited by Americans of every provenance and color, including the black and Indian inheritors of archaic racism that "still casts its shadow over the nation."
©2008 Peter Matthiessen; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"[G]ripping, shocking, and brilliantly told....as powerful a reading experience as nearly any in our literature." (New York Review of Books)
"Magnificent and capacious....the book took my sleeve and like the ancient mariner would not let go....a breathtaking saga." (Los Angeles Times)
"[Watson] comes across as nothing short of iconic....it's difficult to find another figure in American literature so thoroughly and convincingly portrayed." (Publishers Weekly)
This is a wonderfully written, wonderfully narrated, epic, listen. The story of Ed Watson told from various perspectives including, most tellingly, his own. It's story is well covered in the synopsis and other reviews i just want to express my gratitude and admiration for an almost perfect marriage between author and narrator. The dizzying texture of the writing - deceptively simple but with similies and descriptions which make you gasp - combined with the multi layered tour de force of the narration make this a hugely rewarding experience.
Not something I would normally gravitate towards, but I found this trilogy totally captivating. You are torn between finding the main character a bullying, vengeful, "could-be" killer; then you jump back to his childhood and discover how awful it was and feel terrible pity for him.
The trilogy covers the life of Edgar Watson and his family, living in the early 1900s, trying to survive by producing sugar cane but thwarted at every turn by weather, poor soil, racism and economic climates.
It's a part of history I knew very little about, but will look into more of Matthiessen's novels and indeed, that era.
"A great American Novel"
(I have read this book and have read the Watson Trilogy multiple times, but I have just now found this exciting audio program.)
This is a great book!
The Watson Trilogy is superb and this "retelling" is excellent.
There is so much here: the ecological history of a rich frontier wilderness; a disturbing depiction, which is palpable, of the psychological and physical brutality of turn-of-the-century racism in the deep south; and the strangely affecting tragedy of an ambitious and determined man who murdered too often and sometimes too easily trying to mark his way through the wild lands into the modern era.
There's real beauty here, too. It is cast with humor and poetry, and it is a tale told through manifold voices recalling Watson in the Ten Thousand Islands, then via his son investigating the history to find peace of mind, and finally, the intense first-person narration of Watson himself.
This is Matthiessen's masterwork. And that an artist of his caliber has rewritten an already superb trilogy (taking nine years to do so!), bringing the story back into the tight focus he intended in the first place, and for it to be this exceptional novel, places it securely on the shelf of great American Fiction--alongside Twain, Faulkner and Morrison (in my canon!). <i>Shadow Country</i> is a triumphant accomplishment! Bravo, Mr. Matthiessen!
The audio narrator of this novel seems quite capable and I look forward to revisiting this complex, enriching, and entertaining novel audibly!
"Engrossing, Rich and Powerful"
Shadow Country is a superb book. From what I understand, it is a compilation of a trilogy surrounding the life and death of Edgar J Watson, a real-life legendary character of the American south around the late 1800's to his death in 1910. As in a trilogy, this book is comprised of three distinct parts, beginning at the end with Watson's death at the hands of a vigilante mob. The rest of the book is back story; with the first part describing Watson as told by the various people who knew him (many of these people participated in his murder/execution). The second part is told after the fact by Watson's beloved younger son, Lucius, who devotes his life in vain to uncovering the real truth about the life and death of his father. Was he the loving father Lucius knew or the reputed murderous monster?
Parts one and two, painting a vivid picture of the man and history of the region, raise as many questions as it provides answers until finally, part three, where autobiographically told by Edgar Watson himself everything is revealed. Part three, could easily stand alone as a complete novel.
This book is wonderfully written and masterfully read. It has everything; rich descriptions of the landscapes, people, and history, and plausible dialog complete with the dialects of the antebellum and postwar south. It pulls no punches when it comes to slavery and racism, so if you are not willing to hear the "N" word contextually used, be duly warned.
Peter Matthiessen brings the places and time to life. His description of the landscape after a hurricane is perfect. Perhaps living in South Florida made the story more real for me. For example, I have been to Arcadia many times. To this day it is not hard to imagine it as the old-west saloon-filled cattle town of a century past. Certainly there is a lot of history of the Everglades and man's attempts to rape this last frontier.
"You Can Feel Florida On Each Page"
This powerful book evokes Florida in a way very few other books have done for me. Up until now my favorite writer to have really captured the sense of place of Florida was Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Matthiessen's writing picks apart and examines the story from multiple angles with no stone left unturned. There is so much detail, so much feeling reduced exactingly to words that at times it boggled the mind. I felt transported to the swampy waterways and could feel the heat.
I listened piecemeal--dividing the book up into sections and listening to each separately. After a section I would pause and go off and read several other books--taking a break. Even listening this way I was drawn back and kept returning to hear more. It took me a good long while to finish the book. I might have preferred that the volume was left in its three parts as first published. I know Matthiessen wanted it published as a whole in one book--but it was very long.
I agree with another reviewer that listening is better than reading with this book. Heald's narration captures the essence and feeling of the time in which the story took place. It was beautifully read. Worth the time.
"Casts a very loooong shadow"
I often gravitate toward very long audiobooks since I listen with such frequency I feel like I'm definitely getting my money's worth. No argument here on this score, defintely a great word per penny ratio. But the very length of this book has become an internal argument in my mind -- is it just too long? Is it fair to even think about length when it concerns a huge life, multiple characters, or even any life if the author can keep the reader engaged? I'm not sure yet. The book is told from multiple points of view, but all of it centers around one character, EJ Watson. The writing is superb, the narrative at time does drift, but I think the author has done an excellent job of telling the same story from several viewpoints and keeping the telling of the story-- though we know the ending again and again and again -- fresh. I truly think the EXCEPTIONAL narrator keeps the story alive however. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that if I had picked this book up to read, it would not have held my interest. The author owes a lot of credit to the narrator on this one for making the book really come alive, and adding another dimension to the telling that a reader of printed word just would not get. Anyway, if you want a nice long read, an excellent narrator, and really some fine writing you will get it here, but if you're about listening for entertainment only this probably isn't the book for you.
"Historic and Powerful"
The writing and the story is worth 5 stars, in my opinion. The length of the audiobook and the vast amt of characters could have tipped my rating to less than 5, but this is such an amazing book, that anything less than 5 stars (for me) would not do it justice. However, I can understand how it would not be liked as well by everyone. I like history and to be enveloped in a strong story, which this book provided. I didn't know the author and at the end, I looked him up in Wikipedia and found out that this story was originally published as a trilogy. Even though it was re-worked it is still very long. An aspect of the story that I really liked is that the story is told by many different people, so the reader gets the story from different perspectives - there is more that cold be said about this but don't want to give too much away.
You will be very happy with this book if you like history, aren't daunted by a numerous characters and enjoy being immersed in a powerful and compelling story. I liked it so much that I will certainly read the author's earlier book - the Snow Leopard (not avail. by audible)
I wasn't crazy about the narrator at first, but it didn't take long to get used to him and enjoy his many "characters".
"Not your average "story""
If you're looking to while away some time with a pleasant or exciting "story," this is NOT the book for you. Matthiessen analyzes and re-constructs the larger-than-life figure of E.J. Watson is great detail and from many points of view. Some mysteries about Watson's life are revealed, but ultimately, many questions remain. The pioneering "settling" of the Everglades is seen for what it was: a raping and destruction of what made it unique and beautiful. It stands as an object lesson of how lands and countries are settled or subjugated. Racial injustices continue this theme of "to the victor belong the spoils." This book is filled to overflowing with characters, history, and the raw dialogue and life of another century. The narrator does a great job of delineating the myriad of different characters. A trip into the Everglades today reveals that the character of E.J. Watson still lives in the memories and folklore of present-day Florida. That was where I first heard about him, and since then I've waited for Audible to carry this book. A GREAT read, but definitely not for a reader looking only for entertainment.
"Great is the word"
This is one of the great listening values in Audible, for my money. Thomas Heald is a great performer of oldtime cracker accents and the production is half the fun. Skinflint that I am I always seek out the longest reads that are still on at one credit and sometimes outsmart myself (Against the Day) and I was a bit afraid of this one because it sounded like a Faulknerian ramble through lush literary effects without much plot--which it was--but the story of this charismatic man in this bewitching place in this mythic era was just so powerful it kept pulling me along. This is one where you truly do emerge as from a long consuming dream-mare blinking at the light of day, the spell clinging as you reorient yourself reluctantly to the oridinary world. Lots of people who should know are applying the word "great" to it and it isn't misplaced.
""A Sense of Place""
A magificent production. One of the most significant and thoroughly American novels of the last half-century coupled with a brilliant, sensitive narrator to create what is actually a new medium, one that does far more than any of the new, more expensive, gadgets . They are only a more convenient way of obtaining the subject matter; They do not change it. This is the perfect answer to the Nobel committe charge of "provincialism."
"It takes a while to grab you."
This is a complex tale woven together by many characters, somewhat like Rashomon on steroids. After the first thirty minutes, I contemplated dumping the book, but I was also beginning to get curious about what was going on.
Another simile is Seurat's painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," which is made up of countless little dots of paint that all contribute their share to the whole. You don't have to remember each little tale, but the impression of them certainly builds up.
This book was drawn from a longer trilogy that tells the same story in more words. It is masterfully written, and the narration is the best I've heard for an Audible book after five years and 200 titles downloaded.
Dropped me into old Florida like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (River of Grass). As a Florida historian I was gripped by the eyes of frontier protagonists as they weaved their lives and the prejudice terror that emitted from each page. The author really did his homework. Put on your seatbelt on this one. You are in for a ride.
South Florida, March 2009
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