A compelling, powerful re-creation of the hostile environment that was Florida in the early twentieth century, Peter Matthiessen, the naturalist and explorer, brings much of these elements to his novel Killing Mister Watson. He writes about the natural world and the individuals who must struggle to survive the elements. The main focal point of the novel is Edgar J. Watson, a real historical figure who killed the female outlaw Belle Starr. Killing Mister Watson is told by the people who knew Watson, and the characters speak in their natural dialect. Matthiessen knows how to weave in factual material and has created a wonderful sense of place. The novel is dynamic in the sense that it is more than mere imagination; it is an American portrait. Matthiessen clearly portrays how hard life was at that time and how the white population mistreated Native Americans and African Americans. This novel is an account of the murder of Watson, a sly yet reserved sugarcane farmer in the swampy, mosquito-infested Ten Thousand Islands of Florida. While reading the story, it is difficult to pinpoint the actual murderer or murderers. Witnesses and their testimonies entail many different views; some view Mr. Watson as a kind and gentle family-man, while others view him as an outlaw with a erratic past, killing anyone that dared stand in his way. Watson's murder is a prime example of how rumors and gossip can complicate a situation.
The book starts off with Mister Watson being confronted by the sheriff with some of his neighbors. In a wild fury of gunfire, Watson is killed by a flood of bullets, making it difficult to clearly identify the murderer. Each subsequent chapter is told by a different character that was familiar with Watson. Ten in all, these characters who act in the story but also stand outside as commentators and reflectors. They include Henry Thompson, Watson's foreman and devoted surrogate son; Richard Hamilton, a Calusa Indian midwife and patriarch of one of the...
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