Killing Mister Watson

Peter Matthiessen, Author
Peter Matthiessen, Author Random House (NY) $21.95 (372p) ISBN 978-0-394-55400-6
Reviewed on: 06/05/1990
Release date: 06/01/1990
The 20th book by the extraordinarily versatile author of fiction ( At Play in the Fields of the Lord ; Far Tortuga ) and nonfiction ( The Snow Leopard ; In the Spirit of Crazy Horse ) is a curious hybrid. ``As a creature from prehistory is recreated from scattered bits of bone fleshed out on an armature of theory, so my idea of Mister Watson has been reimagined from the few hard `facts' . . . '' writes Matthiessen in an introductory note. Set in the Florida Everglades a century ago, the novel is based on the legend of Edgar J. Watson, the man said to have gunned down female outlaw Belle Starr. Matthiessen gives voices to a gamut of characters who knew Watson, and while it is intended that the book read with the deadpan of an oral history, those imagined--or ``reimagined''--witnesses provide a rich chorus. The book starts with the murder of Watson by a group of his neighbors. The rest of the story is a slow piecing together of the puzzle that explains how this event came to pass. We never hear directly from Watson; he takes form slowly as facets of his life emerge, until his still-opaque profile remains outlined by all we have heard. With more artistry than In Cold Blood but with some of the same concerns, this is an imaginative and haunting evocation of a time and place, and the paradox of the tenderness and brutality with which real and imagined lives are filled. (June)
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