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Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen Review

Title: Shadow Country

Author: Peter Matthiessen

First published January 1, 2008

892 pages, Hardcover

Rating: 4.06


Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country is a stunning American epic that tells the story of the notorious outlaw E.J. Watson, inspired by a near-mythic event in the wild Florida frontier. The book is a brilliant rewriting of Matthiessen’s original vision, distilling a monumental work and deepening the insights and motivations of the characters.

Set in the turn of the twentieth century, the story traverses strange landscapes and frontier hinterlands inhabited by Americans of every provenance and color. It delves into the archaic racism that still casts its shadow over the nation through the eyes of the black and Indian inheritors.

With impeccable style and tone, Shadow Country is an enthralling and unforgettable tale of violence, passion, and redemption.

About the Author

Peter Matthiessen wrote over thirty books and holds the distinction of being the sole author to win the National Book Award in both the non-fiction and fiction categories. Specifically, he received the award twice for his book, The Snow Leopard, in 1979 and 1980.

He also won the award for his work of fiction, Shadow Country, in 2008. Matthiessen co-founded The Paris Review and was an internationally recognized naturalist, explorer, and advocate.

Unfortunately, he passed away in April 2014.

Editoral Review

Shadow Country is a masterful work of fiction by renowned writer Peter Matthiessen. First published on January 1, 2008, this book is an epic retelling of the American story, a tale of violence, race, and greed that spans generations of Floridians.

Matthiessen, who passed away in 2014, was an eminent figure in contemporary literature, a co-founder of The Paris Review and author of several acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. Shadow Country is a captivating piece of historical fiction that reconstructs the life of E.

J. Watson, a real-life figure from the early 20th century who was a notorious sugarcane planter, cattle drover, and political fixer.

The novel is divided into three parts, each of which is narrated by a different character, presenting a multifaceted portrait of Watson and the people and events surrounding him. The setting of the novel is Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, a wild and inhospitable place that both shapes and reflects the characters’ psyches.

At its core, Shadow Country is a novel about America’s dark past and its ongoing legacy. It addresses themes such as racism, environmentalism, capitalism, and masculinity with unflinching honesty, using Watson’s story as a prism to examine the moral ambiguities of American identity.

The novel is as much a reflection on our current moment as it is a historical fiction, a meditation on the human condition that resonates deeply in our times of political and social upheaval. Matthiessen’s prose is a true marvel, lyrical and evocative without being overwrought.

He captures the essence of the Florida landscape with vivid specificity, rendering its beauty and savagery in equal measure. The characters are fully realized and complex, with motivations that are both understandable and repugnant.

The pacing of the novel is deliberate but never lagging, with moments of high drama and quiet reflection interspersed throughout. The novel’s structure is a remarkable feat of narrative engineering, as it weaves together multiple voices and timelines into a seamless whole.

If there is a weakness to Shadow Country, it is that its length and complexity may be daunting to some readers. The novel demands patience and attention, with its intricate web of characters, themes, and motifs.

It is also a deeply unsettling work, which may be difficult for some readers to stomach. That being said, Shadow Country is a monumental achievement in American literature, a sprawling and ambitious work that will stand the test of time.

Fans of Matthiessen’s previous books will find much to love here, as will readers who enjoy epic historical fiction or literary thrillers. Shadow Country is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complex tapestry of America’s past and present.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars. This book is a true masterpiece, but it may not be to everyone’s taste.

For those willing to invest the time and attention, however, it will be a richly rewarding experience.

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