Saddened to hear of Peter Matthiessen Passing

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Peter Matthiessen. His novel, Killing Mr. Watson, includes the history (somewhat fictionalized) of my ancestors, the Hamilton family. I corresponded with Mr. Matthiessen back in 1989-90 right after Killing Mr. Watson came out. Many in my family were upset with the book because of the way Matthiessen portrayed the Hamilton clan. He had interviewed many of the family members still living in the Fort Myers area. I wrote to him and thanked him for his novel and for what I thought was a moving and fairly accurate picture of my ancestors. I heard through the grapevine later on that Mr. Matthiessen once called me “a lady” for not getting all bent out about the story. I’ve cherished that statement ever since. 🙂 Rest in peace, Mr. Matthiessen, and I thank you for all of the wonderful stories you have given you us.

In his honor, I would like to share these links to some of his books.


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Killing Mister Watson

The first in the Shadow Country Trilogy.

Drawn from fragments of historical fact, Matthiessen’s masterpiece brilliantly depicts the fortunes and misfortunes of Edgar J. Watson, a real-life entrepreneur and outlaw who appeared in the lawless Florida Everglades around the turn of the century.


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Lost Man’s River: Shadow Country Trilogy (2)

When his novel Killing Mister Watson was published in 1990, the reviews were extraordinary. It was heralded as “a marvel of invention . . . a virtuoso performance” (The New York Times Book Review) and a “novel [that] stands with the best that our nation has produced as literature” (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now Peter Matthiessen brings us the second novel in his Watson trilogy, a project that has been nearly twenty years in the writing. A story of epic scope and ambition, Lost Man’s River confronts the primal relationship between a dangerous father and his desperate sons and the ways in which his death has shaped their lives.

Lucius Watson is obsessed with learning the truth about his father. Who was E. J. Watson? Was he a devoted family man, an inspired farmer, a man of progress and vision? Or was he a cold-blooded murderer and amoral opportunist? Were his neighbors driven to kill him out of fear? Or was it envy? And if Watson was a killer, should the neighbors fear the obsessed Lucius when he returns to live among them and ask questions?

The characters in this tale are men and women molded by the harsh elements of the Florida Everglades–an isolated breed, descendants of renegades and pioneers, who have only their grit, instinct, and tradition to wield against the obliterating forces of twentieth-century progress: Speck Daniels, moonshiner and alligator poacher turned gunrunner; Sally Brown, who struggles to escape the racism and shame of her local family; R. B. Collins, known as Chicken, crippled by drink and rage, who is the custodian of Watson secrets; Watson Dyer, the unacknowledged namesake with designs on the remote Watson homestead hidden in the wild rivers; and Henry Short, a black man and unwilling member of the group of armed island men who awaited E. J. Watson in the silent twilight. Only a storyteller of Peter Matthiessen’s dazzling artistry could capture the beauty and strangeness of life on this lawless frontier while probing deeply into its underlying tragedy: the brutal destruction of the land in the name of progress, and the racism that infects the heart of New World history.


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Bone by Bone: Shadow Country Trilogy (3)

“Watson’s voice is an artistic triumph. . .[Bone by Bone] may well come to be regarded as a classic.” —San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

In Bone by Bone, Peter Matthiessen speaks in the extraordinary voice of the enigmatic and dangerous E. J. Watson, whom we first saw, obliquely, through the eyes of his early twentieth-century Everglades community in Killing Mister Watson.

This astonishing new novel, calling to account the violence, virulent racism, and destruction of the land that fueled the so-called American Dream, points an accusing finger straight into the burning eyes of Uncle Sam. Here is the bloodied child of the Civil War and Reconstruction who dreams of recovering the family plantation. He becomes the gifted cane planter nearing success on a wilderness river when he gives in fatally to his accumulating demons. Powerfully imagined, prodigiously detailed, Bone by Bone is a literary tour de force as bold and ambitious as Watson himself.

“Like a true tragic figure, [Watson] knows and understands; he does not wriggle to save his own skin,” said The New York Times. “This is a work of genuine dignity.”


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In Paradise: A Novel

Releases April 8, 2014

A profoundly searching new novel by a writer of incomparable range, power, and achievement.

In the winter of 1996, more than a hundred women and men of diverse nationality, background, and belief gather at the site of a former concentration camp for an unprecedented purpose: a weeklong retreat during which they will offer prayer and witness at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform, while eating and sleeping in the quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews to their deaths. Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, has come along, ostensibly to complete research on the death of a survivor, even as he questions what a non-Jew can contribute to the understanding of so monstrous a catastrophe. As the days pass, tensions, both political and personal, surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to healing or closure. Finding himself in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer’s role and to embrace a history his family has long suppressed—and with it the yearnings and contradictions of being fully alive.

In Paradise is a brave and deeply thought-provoking novel by one of our most stunningly accomplished writers.


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The Snow Leopard

IN 1973, Peter Matthiessen and field biologist George Schaller traveled high into the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and possibly glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard. Matthiessen, a student of Z en Buddhism, was also on a spiritual quest?to find the Lama of Shey at the ancient shrine on Crystal Mountain. As the climb proceeds, Matthiessen charts his inner path as well as his outer one, with a deepening Buddhist understanding of reality, suffering, impermanence, and beauty.


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Far Tortuga: A Novel

An adventure story and a deeply considered meditation upon the sea itself.


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The Tree Where Man Was Born with introduction by Jane Goodall

A timeless and majestic portrait of Africa by the National Book Award-winning author of The Snow Leopard, now with a new introduction by Jane Goodall. 

A finalist for the National Book Award when it was released in 1972, this vivid portrait of East Africa remains as fresh and revelatory now as on the day it was first published. Peter Matthiessen exquisitely combines nature and travel writing to portray the sights, scenes, and people he observed firsthand in several trips over the course of a dozen years. From the daily lives of wild herdsmen and the drama of predator kills to the field biologists investigating wild creatures and the anthropologists seeking humanity’s origins in the rift valley, The Tree Where Man Was Born is a classic of journalistic observation.


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The Tree Where Man Was Born; The African Experience

Eliot Porter and Peter Mattiessen

On the great East African plain it is the human who feels himself the intruder. Here, and perhaps only here, the world is that of the animals. It is they who belong, as humans do not. In the more sensitive traveler this evokes a feeling of being privileged to observe ancient forms, settings and behavior that have survived intact from pre-history.

“Matthiessen has the language to express this feeling of awe…Matthiessen also goes into the relationships between humans past and present in East Africa’s great fauna with many a flash of insight into the instincts each has bred in the other…This is the Africa book par excellence.” (Saturday Review)


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In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

“A giant of a book. Indescribably touching, extraordinarily intelligent.”–The Los Angeles Times Book Review. Matthiessen’s chronicle of a fatal gun-battle between FBI agents and American Indian Movement activists in 1975.

On a hot June morning in 1975, a fatal shoot-out took place between FBI agents and American Indians on a remote property near Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Four members of the American Indian Movement were indicted on murder charges for the deaths of two federal agents killed that day. Leonard Peltier, the only one to be convicted, is now serving consecutive life sentences in a federal penitentiary.

Behind this violent chain of events lie issues of great complexity and profound historical resonance. In this controversial book, Peter Matthiessen brilliantly explicates the larger issues behind the shoot-out, including the Lakota Indians’ historical struggle with the U.S. government, from Red Cloud’s war and Little Big Horn in the nineteenth century to the shameful discrimination that led to the new Indian wars of 1970s.


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At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Set in the South American jungle, this thriller follows the clash between two misplaced gringos–one who has come to convert the Indians to Christianity, and one who has been hired to kill them. Now the basis for a major motion picture.


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Find more of Matthiessen’s bookshere.

 

About Karen Y. Hamilton

Walt Whitman says about his autobiography, Specimen Days “…At any rate I obey my happy hour’s command, which seems curiously imperative. May-be, if don’t do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” This is what I feel at this juncture of my life, the need to gather together memories of my ancestors as well as my own memories into some semblance of order. Because all of those fragments, all of the fragments that make up any life, become stories. I am the mother of three sons, who affectionately (I hope!) call me 'gypsy mom' because I tend to wander around a bit soaking in the universe's wonders. I am currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. I have published essays with Heritage Press, Florida Living, and the St. Pauls Review. I am currently working on a book of poems about the Florida Everglades pioneers and a memoir about grief and the bonds of friendship. I live in my hometown, Jupiter, Florida and work as a freelance writer and curriculum specialist.
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