Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
Synopsis (from back cover): Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone — Peter Matthiessen’s great American epic about Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E.J. Watson on the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century — were originally conceived as one vast, mysterious novel. Now, in this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has marvelously distilled a monumental work while deepening the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout.
First line: “Seabirds are aloft again, a tattered few.”
Review: I’m so disappointed to report that this National Book Award winner fell victim to the 350 page rule… And no, that was not a typo — I stopped reading it on page 350!
This really was a failure on my part and not on the part of Matthiessen. The trilogy is very well-written, especially if you enjoy Faulkner (which I do). The characters are finely wrought, fascinating individuals, and the plot moves well. I must admit, I’ve never been so impressed by a novel that I eventually put aside!
So, why did I stop reading it? Well, the novel is 892 pages in length (it is a trilogy) and explores the complex, shameful history of racism in our country (as well as the fascinating layers that every man and every family contain). I started reading it while in Ethiopia last month, and the juxtaposition of my happy, smiling, sunshiney 9 month old niece with the dark, n-word laden past of our country soon became burdensome, especially at such a time of hope and optimism in our country with regard to race.
I did perservere throughout the week and even into our 21 hour flight home, but ultimately had to put it aside. So, I actually whole-heartedly recommend this work, despite the fact that I stopped reading it and have not had the will to continue.
Any takers? If so, simply leave me a comment — I will choose a winner shortly… And I would love to hear if it ultimately fulfills its promise!