Lost in “Shadow Country”

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.

8 Responses to “Lost in “Shadow Country””

  1. Steph Says:

    Did you get this one from your public library? I had it on hold, but there are a bunch of other people clamoring for it (meaning no renewals) and I wasn’t confident I could finish in 3 weeks. I think I may have had my fill of ToB contestants for this year…

  2. girldetective Says:

    I did, and there hasn’t been a line, so I’m on my third, which is the final, renewal. I know what you mean about ToB books–my intentions (as always) were grander than my abilities, but I do still want to read Frankie Landau Banks and Dart King, since those sounded enjoyable, not just Literary.

  3. Kate Says:

    Frankie Landau Banks was extremely enjoyable, and a fast read. I probably wouldn’t have called it Literary but for the ToB. Dart League King is still on the pile of books to be read sometime this month or next.

  4. girldetective Says:

    Unless Frankie can be read in a day, I don’t think I’m going to manage it in the near future. I am truly lost in Shadow Country. My husband finished Moby Dick in less time than it’s taken me for this book. But I do enjoy it, and it’s topical, as i”ll be heading to S. Fla soon.

    Next: Shadow of the Wind by Zafon, for my book group unless I can squeeze in Frankie.

  5. Steph Says:

    Frankie could totally be read in a day! I think it took me a bit longer, but I read 70% of it in one day, but could easily have finished it in one go.

  6. Kate Says:

    I don’t usually say how long it takes to read something because a one day book for me isn’t always a one day book for someone else (I tend to read pretty fast). However, given Steph’s comment, I have to agree with her.

    But, oh. South Florida. I am in deep, deep midwestern envy.

  7. carolyn Says:

    duuuuude. still lost? this is way too long between girldetective posts for me! :)

  8. girldetective Says:

    I may be permanently lost! I had to return it to the library unfinished (!) and am now on vaca. However, “family vacation” is something of an oxymoron, I find. Sorry for the lack of posts; back soon, I hope.