Peter Matthiessen, winner of the 2008 National Book Award for fiction, returned to the Seminar with a talk and reading about Shadow Country, the novel that reworks the story he told in the Watson trilogy, Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone.
Matthiessen said it’s not a revision but a distillation and in some ways an entirely new work. “Virtually every sentence is changed,” he said.
He spoke about the research and imagination that went into telling the story of Edgar Watson, who was gunned down by the residents of Chokoloskee in 1910. “Very little is known about him, but a great deal was written about him,” Matthiessen said. “It was all myth and legend…. The only hard facts, literally, were what I could find on gravestones.”
Watson was reported to have killed dozens of people, and he did get into a lot of disputes– especially when drunk, Matthiessen said.
“He was very good about everything he did except keeping his temper,” Matthiessen said. Some of those fights took place right here in Key West, where Watson would come to trade and buy goods. “He had a notable fight on Duval Street with somebody or other,” he said.
Watson usually behaved respectably in Fort Myers, where his daughter was married to a banker. “When he was in Key West or Tampa, he was a demon– especially in Key West.”