Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Winner, Fiction: Peter Matthiessen's 'Shadow Country'

E.J. Watson was a real-life bloodthirsty cane farmer who terrorized southeastern Florida around the turn of the 20th century. Watson's dubious accomplishments include supposedly murdering Belle Starr, fathering 10 children and running a plantation upon which folks had a habit of turning up dead.

Matthiessen has written almost compulsively about Watson for about 20 years. His award-winning novel, Shadow Country, is a "rendering" of his previously published trilogy about Watson (which has provoked grumbling about its originality in some literary quarters). But it's difficult to argue with Matthiessen's extraordinary channeling of Watson's neighbors, family and victims. The book is perhaps most haunting when its author brings us inside Watson's mind, with a monologue the Los Angeles Times described as "a marvel of confession: a love song, a rationalization, a history lesson."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit