Letter to Author - Peter Mathiessen - "Shadow Country"

Letter -2/23/2009 - Shadow Country is a marvel, a great reading experience.  I am amazed by this feat of sustained concentration.  The story got so intense at one point, I had to put it down, go to my favorite watering hole and have a shot of rum - straight up.  Bloody Watson reminds me of two men:  Joseph Stalin and my grandfather Bob Gilliland, a Scotch-Irish logger who rode out west from Kentucky in 1916 on an Indian motorcycle.

I have recently read a few books on Stalin and it appears that he lived out his destiny by re-creating his horrible childhood for as many Soviets as he could herd through the Gulag archipelago (20 million).  Stalin was beaten by both parents and his father could have been the model for your character Ringeye.  The Watson plantation experience, for his sugar cane workers, reads like a Gulag story.  Once a person is exposed to the incredible violence as a  child, the memory persists for the duration of the abused person’s life. In your novel,  we get a notion of the psychic horror that often drives a difficult adult.  Much is explained, little is forgiven.  These people make our lives miserable (and wonderful)  Your novel struck very close to home.

Watson could have been a family member of ours (except for the murders).  The steely, alcoholic orneriness, vicious hard work and massive ego, dashed dreams, abused children, fighting in bars and poverty - the cauldron of Oregon lumber camps.  Have you read Thomas McGuane’s novel Ninety Two in the Shade ?  It is one of my favorite novels, Shadow Country reads like the brilliant backstory.  My grandfather was a logger.  He worked one end of a twelve foot long steel hand saw from dawn to dusk.  He sawed trees with a legendary vengeance exhausting two or three partners a day.  He always sawed through lunch time and allocated the money he earned during these hours to buy whiskey on Friday nights when he would drink and fight each weekend for recreation,  He was an abusive father who launched my mother into ten years of mental institutions.  Your novel helps explain him to me.  I was riveted to this novel for weeks.