Barkskins - Annie Proulx

1 of 17
736 pages; Scribner
Annie Proulx's darkly piercing fiction has long been rooted in time and place, her layered characters windows onto worlds vanished or shape-shifting before our eyes, as with the doomed cowboy lovers in "Brokeback Mountain." Now comes Barkskins, a masterpiece that unfolds across more than three centuries, as two families—one obsessed with making money, the other influenced by Native American culture and mysticism — grapple over the future of the immense forests that once blanketed North America.

In 1693, indentured servants René Sel and Charles Duquet disembark in New France and are spirited into the woods, where they encounter a rough-and-tumble crew of settlers and Indian traders. René embraces a new life among the Mi'kmaq people, while Duquet (later Duke) envisions a lumber fortune. With Proulx's command of epic on rich display, Barkskins tracks their descendants as they migrate among continents, from wilderness to city and back again. She paces briskly through each generation, but her cast is always flesh and blood: the seductive woodsman Jinot Sel, who wanders the globe, ax in hand; the calculating Lavinia Duke, whose lumber empire rests on a tenuous claim. Proulx draws Lavinia in precise, revelatory strokes: "She was—always had been—a go-ahead type. If she had been a man she would have been in the thick of every business fray...accelerating, progressive!"

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 — a clarion call to save our planet. 

— Hamilton Cain