It’s been over three weeks, and I’m still reading Peter Matthiessen’s nearly 900-page Shadow Country, winner of the 2008 National Book Award. The long book is worth the read, but was slow for me to get into because of a huge panoply of characters–I stopped about page 60, went back to the beginning, and kept a character list.
Shadow Country is historical fiction, taking on the myriad legends surrounding southwest Florida pioneer Edgar Watson. About 30 years ago, Matthiessen submitted a 1500+ page manuscript to his publisher. They said it was too big, so the whole was carved, apparently inelegantly, into three parts: Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone. Matthiessen merged the three, then edited to create this new version and complete tale, Shadow Country. I see it as Matthiessen’s “director’s cut.”
It’s a dark, complex, fascinating book about a similarly dark, complex, fascinating character. I can see why Matthiessen has spent his life wrestling with the life and legends of Watson. But I hope to find my way out into the literary sunshine again soon.