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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Fiction, 2008
Inspired 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.
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Critic Reviews

"[G]ripping, shocking, and brilliantly 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's difficult to find another figure in American literature so thoroughly and convincingly portrayed." ( Publishers Weekly)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By John on 05-02-09

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.

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36 of 39 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By SHAWN on 02-15-09

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!

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100 of 111 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By sarahmoose2000 on 03-03-10

Great Listen

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.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Chris on 07-30-11

A Rewarding listen

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.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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