About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Watch this space - #23 pending

Ok, just on the off chance that anyone other than Mr. Hazel is reading this ... #23 will be a while coming. I'm hoping to finish it before it's due back at the library next weekend, but that'll be a fine challenge (get it?).

Why, you ask? Well, I'm reading Shadow Country: A New Rendering of the Watson Legend, by Peter Matthiessen, and dang, this book is long. I'm no stranger to long books, but this one is over 900 pages ... and even that's a huge reduction from how it started. For the uninitiated (which I was before starting this book), the New York Times explains the Watson legend as follows:
"In 1898, 42-year-old Edgar J. Watson became a living legend when a book credited him with shooting the outlaw queen Belle Starr nine years earlier. The descendant of a prominent South Carolina family, the legal or common-law husband of five women, the father of possibly 10 children, a leading pioneer on the southwest coast of Florida and a man killed by a large group of his neighbors in 1910 ... "
Matthiessen initially conceived of this book as one long novel, but his editors balked at its 1,500-page length, and convinced him to break it up into a trilogy, the pieces of which -- Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone -- were published in the 1990s. However, as he explains in the introduction to Shadow Country, Matthiessen was less than pleased with the way the story flowed in this format, and with the capacity of the three individual novels (especially the second) to stand independently. The result is a substantial revision and condensation of the three books into one mega-novel.

So far I'm about two-thirds of the way through Book I, and my reactions are mixed. The setting is brilliantly described; I won't say "beautifully," because frankly, the book doesn't paint turn-of-the-last-century, southern Gulf Coast Florida as an especially nice place; it's more like the Wild West with more mosquitos, and even many of the book's characters tend to liken it to hell on earth. The characters are also complex and well-rendered, though the large number of different first-person narrators can be difficult to keep track of, and the "who's who" table at the front of the book is of limited use in this regard. However, the plot seems to move a bit slowly, and is a bit confusing at times (again, partly because there are so many different characters and perspectives to keep track of, and it's not always clear who says or does what). This may be deliberate on Matthiessen's part; it seems like part of the mystery of the Watson legend lies in the fact that no one really understands the whole story or knows the full truth, but it does make it a bit tough to keep up.

So ... guess I've got my evenings for the rest of the week cut out for me.

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