Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: "Barkskins" by Annie Proulx

The first few sections of Annie Proulx’s massive new novel Barkskins had me a bit worried. It was well written, but in a style that I personally find tedious and dry, although others might find it more appealing. Thankfully, the story becomes more interesting as it takes shape, and what starts out as a very complex story of two men whose family legacies intersect, intertwine and collide over the course of five centuries in what we now know as New England and Canada, becomes less complex, and rather charmingly executed once all the pieces are in place, and once the reader, myself included, finds out the benefits of the two family trees that Proulx so graciously added at the back of this book that. There are quite a few political points, which I didn’t care for (although, again, some might), but it didn’t distract from the immersive experience of the book. It begins 1693, where two men, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France, which becomes Canada. They are at the mercy of a feudal lord for three years in exchange for land. Sel, the tougher of the two, in a cruel twist of fate, is forced into a marriage by the lord and dies swiftly of an Indian attack. Duquet, whose introduction shows his listlessness as he lazes about the ship that brought them to New France, escapes and becomes a ruthless fur trader, exemplified by a brutal scene where he lets a young would-be robber die of a horrific infection, only for said action to lead him to a horrifying, unspoken fate. Throughout the centuries, the fates of these two families follow a similar path as shown by their two ancestors. The Sel family, imbued with Indian blood, faces hardships and brutal conditions, and never gets what they want. The Duquets create a great amount of success for themselves, but are never fully protected by nature’s crueler elements. The epic story is a naturalistic one, showing tragedy on both sides irrespective of good or bad deeds. I’m struggling to find a grander point besides the political and environmental issues it tries to address, which I found tacky, especially in the last few, rushed and poorly executed pages. But even on the surface, it is a fun, whirlwind epic of this new land’s early days that is thoroughly pleasurable.  

Rating: 4/5

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