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Considering that Annie Proulx is already one of America’s most celebrated and honored writers, it is saying something that she is receiving the best reviews of her life for her new, 717-page novel, Barkskins.
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal: “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, Proulx’s tenth book, begins in the late seventeenth century when two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” 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 Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. 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, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
Jeffrey Zuckerman of The New Republic concludes: “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.”
- Read an excerpt from the novel.
- Listen to Proulx discuss her novel.
- Watch an interview with Proulx.
- Read her Paris Review interview.
Annie Proulx’s Top Ten List
You are certainly persistent. I find this list of 10 books project to be difficult, pointless and wrong-headed. Just so you’ll give it a rest, here is one list and another. One could, of course, quickly go on to put together list after list. Moreover, the lists would change from week to week as one’s tastes change and as one reads more widely. It has not escaped me that nearly every newspaper, book review publication, magazine are currently gripped by list fever. Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum.
1. The Odyssey by Homer (ninth century b.c.e.?).
2. Wheat That Springeth Green by J. F. Powers (1975).
3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876).
4. Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter (1962).
5. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1966).
6. King Lear by William Shakespeare (1605).
7. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855–91).
8. The stories of William Trevor (1928– ).
9. The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (1990).
10. The haiku of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).