Former CIA Agent Peter Matthiessen Wins National Book Award for "Shadow Country"
In 1953, young CIA-recruit Peter Matthiessen started a magazine called "The Paris Review" as a cover for information-gathering and government-destabilizing activities in Europe.

Funny coincidence: the magazine then got famous and popular for its uncompromising interviews and for its ability to track down famous writers and get them to talk.


Anyway, this year's National Book Award for Fiction went to old man Peter Matthiessen for his book "Shadow Country," a book about a killer, seducer, con artist, and planter named Edgar J. Watson. People are pissed that this book won the prize because it is a reprint of three different books known as The "Watson" Trilogy: "Killing Mr. Watson," "Lost Man's River," and "Bone by Bone."

These books were each written in the 1990's. The trilogy was cobbled together into one volume with 400 pages cut out of it and renamed. Then the publisher paid the thousand dollar entry fee for the NBA's and got the book in the running for the prize.

Matthiessen is charming! He sounds like a genteel Southerner, even though he is from New York! Watch him get interviewed by Charlie Rose:

Charlie: "You were a CIA agent who used "The Paris Review" as cover."

Pete: "I INVENTED "The Paris Review" as cover."

Charlie: "Exactly." (laughing)

Pete: "Yeah. I did. But in very, very short order I became much more interested in "The Paris Review" than I was in my paid job, so to speak. You know Charlie, I've been very lucky in my life. I've had many very great adventures. This is the only adventure I regret: was the CIA. But it did do one thing for me. I quit, while on the job over there, very, very early on, when I was still a young kid, I was only 24, 25."

Charlie: "So you were two years in the CIA."

Pete: "Yeah, I was two years and then I realized my politics -- I'd never had any politics before -- I was a greenhorn. And my politics, when I got them, were way left of them, and I told my...uh..."

Charlie: "Handler?"

Pete: "Yeah, my handler, or know, you guys really can't trust me anymore. I'm not on your side. Things were happening back here...a lot of bad stuff...blacklists...and all the witch hunts..." (gesturing to signify that there is more he's not saying)

Charlie: (Stern, not buying it) "Alright, so what would you do for them in Paris?"

Pete: "Well, I think...uh...we'll have to just go on with the rest of the show. It wasn't very much. Paltry, really. What it really was know what I was doing...spending my day doing? Deceiving people. That's all it is."

Charlie: "Deceiving people as to?"

Pete: "Deceiving people as to who you are, what's your identity, what you're up to, what you want to know them about. All that kind of stuff. I really disliked it."

Charlie: "Were you looking for people you could convert?"

Pete: "No."

Charlie: "Were you looking to expose people?"

Pete: "No, no, no. No, I was getting information on people. I didn't even know what I was doing because they never tell you what the heck you're doing and what they're using it for. But I made a very good contact, and they were very excited about it, and it was at that point that it came to kind of a head. They wanted me to go in deeper and make myself kind of a dupe. A tool for the..."


Charlie: "Writing for you. Are you happiest with fiction or non-fiction?"


Right now, Matthiessen is probably happiest with fiction.

I'm glad he won this award. I want to read his book. He sounds like an interesting fucking guy, with interesting fucking stories.

Also, I want to see how well he describes murder.

Posted by miracle on Thu, 20 Nov 2008 18:45:35 -0500 -- permanent link

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