The Last (?) Word on the Shadow Country Controversy

The happily resurrected MobyLives points to a story in today’s New York Times about the debate over whether Peter Matthiessen‘s Shadow Country qualifies as a “new” novel, seeing as it compresses and reworks three of his previous works. (I’ve mentioned this last month, and back in April, when Michael Dirda defended the enterprise in the New York Review of Books.) National Book Award executive director Harold Augenbraum effectively douses the flames:

“We allow collections of previously published material,” he said. “Collected poems, collected essays, short-story collections — books like that. We don’t allow reprints, but we didn’t consider this a reprint. There’s a lot of new writing here.”

But the story is largely an appreciation of the 81-year-old Matthiessen, who speaks out on the matter toward the end of the piece:

“I brought forward some characters, and gave them a voice,” he explained. “Like Henry Short, a black man who probably fired the first shot. I dropped others. I also dropped a lot of historical stuff and cut 40 years out of the time span. But a lot of the changes were just deepening, or I use the rather pretentious word ‘distilling.’ ”

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