I just finished…

Shadow Country by Peter Mathiessen. Set in southwest Florida, when it remained America’s Last Frontier, it is the tale of E.J. Watson, who loomed so demonic to his neighbors, that in 1910 twenty of them gunned him down. No one was prosecuted.

The book has an interesting history. Mathiessen first wrote it as a 1500 page novel, which was unpublishable. He then broke in into three 500 page novels, which were published over nine years. Still dissatisfied, he rewrote them into one 900+ page novel, which won the National Book Award (his third) in 2008.

The entire book is suffused with evil. Murder. Rape. Racism. Environmental degradation. Obliteration of souls. There are indications (strong ones) of this being Mathiessen’s view of capitalism, of it being how he sees America. No counter-arguments are presented to these views. There is no hope of man being capable of more than Mathiessen allows him on his pages.

Mathiessen’s life was an interesting one too. He served in World War ii. He was an expatriate writer in Paris with James Baldwin and William Styron. He started “The Paris Review,” with George Plympton, which, Mathiessen later revealed, was a helpful cover for his work for the CIA. LSD eventually led him to Zen and he became a Buddhist priest.

Where, I wondered, in “Shadow Country” was the detachment I associated with Buddhism? Where was the rose that grew from this garbage? His biography, I think, should be an interesting one.