Killing Mister Watson

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Ask a Book Question: #70 (A Florida Mystery)

Daryll writes in with this question:I was recently browsing Amazon and happened upon a book that I would really like to read but I forgot to bookmark it or place it in my cart. I do not know the book’s title or author, but I have some of the plot. Can you help me find the book again? Here’s what I remember:The story is set in Florida, possibly in the Everglades, in the first half of the twentieth century. It is based on a man with a criminal past whose neighbors hate him. He eventually dies and later on his son comes to visit and uncovers some dark secret(s).I believe the book is a condensed version of three, four, or five original novels and the author boiled it all down into one.I know that’s not much to go on, but it’s all I have.The book you are looking for just got quite a bit of attention as the winner of the National Book Award. 81-year-old Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (excerpt), as Bloomberg notes, came about after he “rewrote and compressed portions of his novels about the murderous Florida sugar-cane farmer Edgar J. Watson — Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone — into a single 892-page volume published by the Modern Library.”A bit more from Publishers Weekly: “Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy is a touchstone of modern American literature, and yet, as the author writes in a foreword of this reworking, with the publication of Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone, he felt, after twenty years of toil… frustrated and dissatisfied. So after six or seven years of re-creation – rewriting many passages, compressing the timeline, shortening the work by some 400 pages and fleshing out supporting cast members (notably black farmhand Henry Short) – the three books are in one volume for the first time, and the result is remarkable.”

Matthiessen, Gordon-Reed Win National Book Awards

81-year-old Peter Matthiessen has taken home the National Book Award for fiction in something of an upset. His book, Shadow Country (excerpt), as the Bloomberg notes, came about after he “rewrote and compressed portions of his novels about the murderous Florida sugar-cane farmer Edgar J. Watson — Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone — into a single 892-page volume published by the Modern Library.”While Matthiessen’s win was perhaps a slight upset over Marilynne Robinson, whose Home was a sequel to Pulitzer-winning Gilead, the bigger upset was on the non-fiction side, where Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (excerpt) beat out The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. Mayer’s indictment of the Bush administration’s anti-terror tactics grabbed plenty of headlines this year, but The Hemingses of Monticello, despite being less obviously timely, was highly regarded for moving the ball forward in pursuing the thorny truth behind Thomas Jefferson and his slaves. Indeed, Jill Lepore made a very compelling case for the book in the New Yorker in September.Rounding out the winners, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty (poem) won the poetry category and the award in young people’s literature went to What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

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