Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

I was actually casting around for a fourth hardcover to round out the weekend’s 4-for-3 offering at World’s Biggest Bookstore when I picked this up. I think I’d noted it after the National Book Award win, but something about the cover—perhaps a similarity to Richard Ford’s Lay of the Land?—made me think it was some rather severe contemporary fiction. In fact, it’s a re-edited/retold version of Peter Matthiessen’s acclaimed historical trilogy, about which I knew, shamefully, nothing.

One of those situations in which a cover that feels fairly anonymous when viewed online in reduced dimensions turns into quite an event when it sits face-out on the shelf, robust in its deluxe Modern Library production values. It’s a gorgeous book and it pretty much sells itself in the physical form. Which raises some interesting questions about all that a cover must do in today’s bookselling environment.

So anyway I’m now looking forward to some lush historical fiction. Here’s the breath-taking opening paragraph:

Sea birds are aloft again, a tattered few. The white terns look dirtied in the somber light and they fly stiffly, feeling out an element they no longer trust. Unable to locate the storm-lost minnows, they wander the thick waters with sad muted cries, hunting seamarks that might return them to the order of the world.