Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I am slowly making my way through Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country, a birthday gift from the friend D.


It is one of those lengthy and weighty books to be savored, to be read and reflected upon, to be engaged and digested slowly. So far, I have done just that.


Shadow Country is a revisitation and revision of three previous related novels by Matthiessen—Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone—each concerning the life and murder of one Edgar Watson. The novel is sectioned into three books, each one corresponding to one of the reworked novels.

I have now completed books one and two. I am finding it difficult to move into book three, primarily due to the power of the second book.


Book one concerns the killing of Edgar Watson as seen through brief narratives of his neighbors and family members. His life and the fear that he instills in those who eventually kill him are cleanly sketched.

Book two shifts the consideration of the same material, the same mythologies, the same stories and legends as seen through the eyes of his many children, primarily that of his son Lucius. Lucius is interviewing those involved in the murder of his father as he attempts to figure out who his father was from the distance of many years.


I have read a few reviews of Lost Man's River and of book two of Shadow Country that consider it the weak link in the three novels of the Watson trilogy and in the three books of Shadow Country. I can't speak to the the power of the third novel/book because I have yet to encounter any of its material. And, while I honor the opinion of those who consider book two a mere bridge, I wholeheartedly disagree.

Book two felt like a reworking in its own right of the material that preceded it in book one. I found the heartache and longing of Lucius to be more powerful, more poignant, than the stories of the murderous neighbors of Edgar Watson. I also get the sense that it is going to resonate stronger for me than the tale of Edgar Watson from his own point of view in book three.

Which leaves me sitting in the words and thoughts and memories of Lucius, and which leaves me listening to his story, his song, stuck for the moment, unable to move forward, unable to engage the words of his father.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article is very informative. Great stuff here.