Sound the trumpets – I finished Barkskins. I had read several non-challenging things in a row – thrillers, memoirs, cereal boxes – so when I started it I thought “this is good but it may take me a while because it’s smart and literary.” Well, I started it on Saturday and read 400 pages by the time I went to work on Monday. (Remember – I have no kids, no responsibilities, no life.)
Wow. Logging and Canada are not things that are near and dear to my heart, though with the election shaping up the way it is Canada is looking pretty darn good right about now. Who would have thought that 700+ pages about those two would be so enthralling? And yes, we do go beyond Canada (New France) and visit Maine, Amsterdam, New Zealand, Nova Scotia and points in between. We also go beyond logging to examine nation building, entrepreneurship and sailing on the treacherous and open seas. I loved the histories, the family dynamics and the philosophies. I loved that this is no revisionist history – the time was presented as it was, even if our current eyes and understanding see the flaws in logic, the racism in actions, and the foibles of the characters.
Yes, there is irony in a book about cutting down trees which takes so many pages. I’m sorry for the loss of the trees but my time was surely well spent.
— Sydne, Atlanta
July 2016 Indie Next List
“This multigenerational saga follows the fortunes of the Sel and Duke families from early Colonial days to the present, spanning centuries and continents as they make their living not only from the bounty of the land but also from the ravaging and destruction of it. As always, Proulx is brilliant at creating a story that flows impeccably, and her nature writing is some of the most beautiful and evocative to be found in modern literature. This novel is an epic work, a fictional Silent Spring that will linger with readers long after completion.”
— Bill Cusumano (M), Square Books, Oxford, MS
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Best Novel A New York Times Notable Book A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain,” comes the New York Times bestselling epic about the demise of the world’s forests: “Barkskins is grand entertainment in the tradition of Dickens and Tolstoy…the crowning achievement of Annie Proulx’s distinguished career, but also perhaps the greatest environmental novel ever written” (San Francisco Chronicle).
In the late seventeenth century two young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a native woman and their descendants live trapped between two cultures. But Duquet runs away, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Annie Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
“A stunning, bracing, full-tilt ride through three hundred years of US and Canadian history…with the type of full-immersion plot that keeps you curled in your chair, reluctant to stop reading” (Elle), Barkskins showcases Proulx’s inimitable genius of creating characters who are so vivid that we follow them with fierce attention. “This is Proulx at the height of her powers as an irreplaceable American voice” (Entertainment Weekly, Grade A), and Barkskins “is an awesome monument of a book” (The Washington Post)—“the masterpiece she was meant to write” (The Boston Globe). As Anthony Doerr says, “This magnificent novel possesses the dark humor of The Shipping News and the social awareness of ‘Brokeback Mountain.’”
“Monumental. [With] prose of directness, clarity, rhythmic power and oaken solidity. . . Barkskins is a potently imagined chronicle of mankind’s dealings with the North American forests."
“Barkskins is masterful, full of an urgent, tense lyricism, its plotting beautifully unexpected, its biographical narratives flowing into one another like the seasons. Ambitious. . . A marvel. . .[Barkskins] is a long novel worth your time.”
“[It’s] a tale too beautiful to miss, excellent for long afternoons spent swaying in a hammock.”
“Magnificent... Barkskins flies... One of the chief pleasures of Proulx’s prose is that it conveys you to so many vanished wildwoods, where you get to stand ‘tiny and amazed in the kingdom of pines.’ This is also the great sadness of Barkskins. The propulsive tension here is generated not by wondering what will happen to each character, but by knowing that the forests will be leveled one after another... If Barkskins doesn’t bear exquisite witness to our species’s insatiable appetite for consumption, nothing can.”
“Annie Proulx’s Barkskins is remarkable not just for its length, but for its scope and ambition. It’s a monumental achievement, one that will perhaps be remembered as her finest work. . . It’s exhilarating to read Proulx, a master storyteller; she is as adept at placing us in the dripping, cold Mi’kma’ki forests as in the stuffy Duke & Sons parlors. Despite the length, nothing seems extraneous, and not once does the reader sense the story slipping from Proulx’s grasp, resulting in the kind of immersive reading experience that only comes along every few years.”
“Part ecological fable à la Ursula K. Le Guin, part foundational saga along the lines of Brian Moore's Black Robe and, yes, James Michener's Centennial, Proulx's story builds in depth and complication without becoming unduly tangled and is always told with the most beautiful language. Another tremendous book from Proulx, sure to find and enthrall many readers.”
“Proulx’s signature passion and concern for nature as well as her unnerving forensic fascination with all the harm that can befall the human body charge this rigorously researched, intrepidly imagined, complexly plotted, and vigorously written multigenerational epic. [With an] extensive and compelling cast, Proulx’s commanding epic about the annihilation of our forests is nothing less than a sylvan Moby-Dick replete with ardently exacting details about tree cutting from Canada and Maine to Michigan, California, and New Zealand, with dramatic cross-cultural relationships and with the peculiar madness catalyzed by nature’s glory. Here, too, are episodes of profound suffering and loss, ambition and conviction, courage and love. With a forthcoming National Geographic Channel series expanding its reach, Proulx’s commanding, perspective-altering epic will be momentous.”
“Barkskins is an awesome monument of a book, a spectacular survey of America’s forests dramatized by a cast of well-hewn characters.Such is the magnetism of Proulx’s narrative that there’s no resisting her thundering cascade of stories. A vast woods you’ll want to get lost in. . . Barkskins is a towering new work of environmental fiction.”
“Annie Proulx returns with a great long read for the summer . . . Worth the wait, [Barkskins is] a stunning, bracing, full-tilt ride through 300 years of U.S. and Canadian history, told through two families whose fortunes are shaped, for better and worse, by the Europeans' discovery of North America's vast forests. With Barkskins, Annie Proulx blows out the horizons. The novel has a satisfying global sweep, with the type of full-immersion plot that keeps you curled in your chair, reluctant to stop reading. Barkskins is a tour de force.”
“Fans of Annie Proulx have waited 14 years for a new novel from her. This summer, she has rewarded them. Her eye for detail offers readers glimpses into a world that is almost unimaginable. Proulx's novel will leave readers with new perspectives on a familiar history. It will also, perhaps, make some readers pause, this summer, during a summer stroll perhaps, and consider the manmade environment — the roads, the sidewalks, the homes, the cellphone towers, the flowerbeds — amid the tall, long-lived trees.”
“Stunning, monumental... a moving opus of evolving Western environmental values in novel form.”
“Towering. . . With gorgeous imagery, clean prose and remarkable sensitivity, [Barkskins is] as powerful and important as any literary work produced on this continent in the three centuries spanned by the story. “Barkskins” is “The Giving Tree” for grown-ups.”
“Dazzling. . . Proulx’s characters are vivid, insistent, captivating. . . nary a page goes by without a few exquisitely observed historical details. The temptation to consider Barkskins under the rubric of a Great American Novel is difficult to resist, given its scope. But Proulx’s ambitions seem to be keyed differently. Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Morrison’s Beloved—all of these books might be doomed in their respective attempts to somehow encompass the United States in its full complexity, but they at least focus on that burgeoning and manifold nation. Proulx, in contrast, establishes in Barkskins a narrative so grand in spatial and temporal scope, so broad in theme, that it cannot conceivably be strictly American. Her pitch-perfect sentences, instead, encompass the entire Western world, and its ever-growing concern with ecological and environmental change.”
“Extraordinary. . . Barkskins is the masterpiece Proulx was meant to write.”
“Enthralling. . . Proulx’s human characters are vividly conceived. Barkskins brims with a granular sense of human experience over a period of 300 years. And like many novels by excellent writers, Barkskins encourages understanding, if not empathy, for characters whose outlooks we might usually dismiss. One of the great achievements of this novel is to create a tragic personality for the environment. Proulx’s beautiful prose renders and exultant view of the life of forest worlds lost to us.”
“Like the best realists, Proulx can make us see the world and its inhabitants with greater clarity. Juggling so many different plotlines and characters becomes easier when you have, as Proulx does, a Dickensian gift for quick portraiture... Proulx reminds us that the world we live in was made possible by the destruction of the world that preceded it. The novel concludes with Saptisia Sel, the head of the Breitsprecher Tree Project, asking, ‘Can’t we try again? Can’t we fix what we broke?’ It’s an urgent question, perhaps the urgent question, one that we should all be asking ourselves now.”
“‘Barkskins’ is Annie Proulx’s greatest novel yet. [Her] talent for bringing individuals alive with a single perfectly-turned line has never been sharper than in these pages. … It's a completely masterful performance, the greatest thing this great novelist has ever written.”
“Annie Proulx’s new work is a tribute to the world’s boreal forests, an intricately detailed narrative of geography, history and humanity that is both exhilarating and mesmerizing... [T]his is not a novel to peck at or flick through, but one to read slowly and to savour as a long and fulfilling feast.”
“Annie Proulx – the magnificent American writer who brought us ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘The Shipping News’ – scores once again with the captivating ‘Barkskins.’ . . . Her prose is often glorious, her several protagonists unforgettable. Proulx taps a vein here, helping to make ‘Barkskins” one of the most exciting books I have read in years. Proulx has pulled out all the stops."
“Few authors are as uniquely qualified as Annie Proulx (The Shipping News) to sustain a novel as long as Barkskins. Pages melt away as readers zoom through the decades. Proulx’s story is bigger than any one man, one death, or even one culture: It’s about the effect civilization and society have had on the land. In her magical way, Proulx leaves the reader with an impression of not only a collection of people, but our people and the country that shaped us as we shaped it. This is Proulx at the height of her powers as an irreplaceable American voice.”
“Annie Proulx weaves [a] wealth of research, [and] brilliant imagination in [her] new novel Barkskins. Annie Proulx is a fearless writer. Like Melville's whaling and McMurtry's ranching, [Barkskins] provides a cast of colorful characters — and a means of examining their relationships to the natural world and the continent's indigenous people. [With] delicious prose . . . Barkskins has a large cast, but that's a showcase for Proulx's gift for creating lively, complex characters. Proulx's style is inimitably her own, but it echoes here with those of great influences: Dickens, Melville, Twain, Faulkner and more.”
“Annie Proulx’s 10th book is ambitious and essential. Barkskins is grand entertainment in the tradition of Dickens and Tolstoy. Barkskins is awesome and urgent. And if we’re lucky enough to survive the Anthropocene we’ve seemingly wrought, then Barkskins will surely survive as the crowning achievement of Proulx’s distinguished career, but also as perhaps the greatest environmental novel ever written.”
"Barkskins leaves no board unturned as it covers the industry that brought us plywood, cheap paper and prefab housing. [With] Proulx’s stunning stylistic gifts . . . She is a writer’s writer, and one whose deep interest in history provides the long view of how our environmental recklessness has brought us to a point of reckoning."
“Proulx sketches each person with vigorous, unforgettable strokes . . . read it, absorb its urgent message.”
“An epic capstone to 80-year-old Proulx’s impressive career, Barkskins surpasses even the extraordinary The Shipping News as her finest novel."
“Annie Proulx’s stunning new Barkskins is a bracing, full-tilt ride through 300 years of U.S. and Canadian history. With Barkskins, she blows out the horizons. The novel has a satisfying global sweep, with the type of full-immersion plot that keeps you curled in your chair, reluctant to stop reading. Barkskins is a tour de force [and] was worth the wait.”
“Epic . . . Violent, monumental and often breathtaking, Barkskins is a colossal achievement.”
"A masterpiece, Barkskins encompasses a breadth of themes and history rarely approached by any writer, girded by peerless research and Proulx's X-ray vision into the human heart. But the triumph of the novel lies in sentences that burst from the page, ideas that move and breathe with mission.”
“The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News delivers an epic novel that begins with two impoverished Frenchmen, full of hope, who migrate to Canada in the 18th century and become indentured woodcutters, or 'barkskins.' The following 300-year history of two families spans cultures and continents, and probes North Americans’ predatory history with our now-vanishing natural world.”