Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shadow Country: Mr Watson's Voices

My dog-earing habit was put to the test with Peter Mathiessen's Shadow Country, an 892 page Southern [why are most of the best Southern???] epic published in 2008 (The Modern Library). I felt lost when it ended, and irritable. It's hard leaving a world one has lived in every night for a month, for the empty unknown.

I actually put the book aside after the first part, and picked it up again weeks later. I found the going turgid and complicated and couldn't imagine wading through a whole book like this.

Then it changed.

It is masterfully written and everthing has its reason. The dog-earing was put to the test because I found no sound bites. Precious few dog-eared pages. It's as though his revelations take pages and pages and years to unfold. Everything is dependent on or born of what came before. So lifting paragraphs out of context is without reward.

But: one of the first dog-ears, on p. 58, was for Estorbo, my Dominican cat:

"Ass-toneesh!" the Frenchman inched a little more of Brewer's lightning into his glass like it was medicine. "I am ass-toneesh from the first fokink day I set my foots in fokink Amerique!"

And for growing things:

" ...I planted corn by hand, gold kernel after kernel, row after precious row. Thin fresh green lines, weak and broken at first, came forth mysteriously and rose in a green haze; for a while, I cherished each and every plant among the hundreds, even the weak ones I would later weed away. I felt ingrown in this dark soil, as the Artemas Plantation's heir, putting down soft tendrils like a native plant of our old land. I grew to love the Clouds Creek earth, and in summer I made strange love to it in the soft evenings, lying down upon it naked as the soil gave off the gathered heat of the long day." P. 535

And for lyricism

"We...walked barefoot down along the edge of the blue springs, beneath a canopy of crimson maples, old gold yellow hickories, russet oaks. Charlie picked watercress for our wild lettuce, and a blueberry with reddish stems: she called it sparkleberry. She led my eye to the woodland birds of fall, knew their brown names - hermit thrush, sparrow, winter wren." P 579

Poor, terrible Mr Watson.

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