Bone by Bone is the 3d volume in Peter Matthiessen's epic trilogy about E. J. Watson and the southwestern Florida coast at the turn of the century.I'd already read Killing Mr Watson, the 1st volume, when Matthiessen published his revision of the trilogy as Shadow Country.Rather than read that single volume, as fine as it's reputed to be, I decided to stay the course with the original 3 novels.So last year I reread Killing Mr Watson, then Lost Man's River during the summer.And now I've completed Bone by Bone and the trilogy.E. J. Watson had a reputation as an outlaw.He was thought to have killed Belle Starr in the Oklahoma Territory, later had to leave northern Florida under the shadow of murder, and all that baggage followed him to the 10,000 Islands where his neighbors feared him and considered him a man who'd go to any ends, even break the law, to be successful as a sugar cane grower and syrup manufacturer.Killing Mr Watson is told in the many voices of those neighbors.Matthiessen's treatment of Watson is as the Satan in the Eden that was southwest Florida around 1900.Lost Man's River occurs half a century later.It's told through Lucius Watson, E. J.'s son, and again the same voices are used in interviews to retell the story with different slants and perspectives.I thought Bone by Bone to be the most accessible of the novels, and I like to think maybe because it isn't in multiple voices but is, instead, spoken by Watson alone, those dreadful events finally given his point of view.As reader, I was able to establish and maintain a rhythm so that the story flows as smoothly as the tides so frequently mentioned.Without quite seeing himself as Satan, Watson recognizes the verdant coastline rich in foliage and wildlife is a heaven.But here Matthiessen sees the conflicts as the expulsion of Satan from heaven, Satan's fall, all overseen by the oracular 1910 passing of Halley's Comet.Who knows, in the end, the truth?The inhabitants of the coast, that region south of Naples, fear him as a violent man, a murderer responsible for many deaths and other shady happenings.Horrors proliferate.Watson's portrait of himself is that of one who cares for others while at the same time careful to control events to his social and economic advantage.He paints himself as well-intentioned but influenced by the designs of others, his innocent intention corrupted as events and situations slide out of his controlIt's for the reader to decide whether or not goodness triumphs, whether or not greed wins, whether or not evil is defeated.What's certain is that fear, rather than good or evil, is the greatest force at work in the islands.In my opinion, this final volume and the trilogy don't quite match a couple of other Peter Matthiessen novels:At Play in the Fields of the Lord and Far Tortuga.But he's a very fine novelist and with this trilogy has written something worthwhile.To me he demonstrates one of the most admirable traits of the novelist—elegance.By the last page, Bone by Bone and the trilogy have become elegant.
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