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Barkskins

Cover of Barkskins

Barkskins

A Novel
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From Annie Proulx—the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain—comes her masterpiece, ten years in the writing: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about taming the wilderness, set over two centuries.
In the late eighteenth century Rene Sel, an illiterate woodsman, makes his way from Northern France to New France to seek a living. Bound to a feudal lord, a "seigneur," for three years in exchange for land, he suffers extraordinary hardship, always in awe of the forest he is charged with cleaning. Rene marries an Indian healer with children already, and they have more, mixing the blood of two cultures. Proulx tells the stories of the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of two lineages, the Sels and the Duquets, as well as the descendants of their allies and foes, as they travel back to Europe, to China, to New England, always in quest of a livelihood or fleeing stunningly brutal conditions—accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, the revenge of rivals.

Proulx's inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid—in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope—that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable American writers of our time, and Barkskins is her Moby Dick.
From Annie Proulx—the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain—comes her masterpiece, ten years in the writing: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about taming the wilderness, set over two centuries.
In the late eighteenth century Rene Sel, an illiterate woodsman, makes his way from Northern France to New France to seek a living. Bound to a feudal lord, a "seigneur," for three years in exchange for land, he suffers extraordinary hardship, always in awe of the forest he is charged with cleaning. Rene marries an Indian healer with children already, and they have more, mixing the blood of two cultures. Proulx tells the stories of the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of two lineages, the Sels and the Duquets, as well as the descendants of their allies and foes, as they travel back to Europe, to China, to New England, always in quest of a livelihood or fleeing stunningly brutal conditions—accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, the revenge of rivals.

Proulx's inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid—in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope—that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable American writers of our time, and Barkskins is her Moby Dick.
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About the Author-
  • Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range . Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story "Brokeback Mountain," which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is. She lives in Wyoming .
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 29, 2016
    Reviewed by Gabe Habash Very long novels have perennially commanded our attention—Donna Tartt, Marlon James, Hanya Yanagihara, and Garth Risk Hallberg have written four of the most discussed novels of the past three years; they are all more than 700 pages. But Annie Proulx’s Barkskins is remarkable not just for its length, but for its scope and ambition—it spans more than 300 years and includes a cast of dozens. It’s a monumental achievement, one that will perhaps be remembered as her finest work.
    Structured in 10 novella-length sections, the book begins with two Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, who arrive in New France (now Canada) in 1693 to work for a local seigneur in exchange for land. The first section is about Sel, a born woodsman who fathers three children with Mari, a Mi’kmaq woman. The second follows Duquet, the wilier of the two, who runs away and, snatching up tracts of woodlands in the northeast, founds a timber company in Boston called Duke & Sons. The subsequent sections alternate between each man’s bloodline, tracing displacement, resettlement, and death, finishing in 2013.
    The descendants of Sel battle the erosion of Mi’kmaq culture (at the book’s end, their number dips below 1,500), often struggling to adapt as Europeans flood North America, while the Mi’kmaq drift and take labor jobs as they are uprooted. Among the Sels are Achille, René Sel’s son and a master hunter, who goes on a moose hunt but discovers English soldiers waiting when he returns home, and Jinot, a Sel descendant further down the line, who finds himself cutting huge kauri on an ill-fated journey to New Zealand. Meanwhile, Duquet’s descendants take up the family business. James Duke, Duquet’s great grandson whose “future flickered before him as a likely series of disappointments,” pushes west to find new sources of timber. And James’s daughter, the hungry and enterprising Lavinia, perhaps the book’s most memorable character, brings unprecedented growth during her time at the helm.
    The middle of the book can become a bit overwhelming, as the reader attempts to juggle all the new characters and story lines Proulx introduces, but, as in the best epics, the later pages are weighted with all that’s come before. Decisions and incidences have ramifications that pop back up again, often hundreds of years later, in astonishing ways. In relating character to setting, repeatedly showing how one influences the other, there are shades of Steinbeck’s East of Eden. But the forests are decimated, and characters are summarily, violently dispatched, often offstage. And as years pass in the space of a few pages, it becomes clear that history and time are the main characters here, each moment incremental and nearly insignificant in and of itself, but essential in shaping the world that emerges at the story’s conclusion.
    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.
    Gabe Habash is the deputy reviews editor of Publishers Weekly. His debut novel is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.

  • AudioFile Magazine So often novels affixed with labels like "saga" and "sweeping" and "vast in scope" can be difficult to break into--their opening chapters slow and setting-laden. Not so with Robert Petkoff's outstanding performance of Proulx's gorgeous BARKSKINS. Petkoff's delivery is mesmerizing, with distinctive voices for generations of well-developed characters, and perfect pacing and incredible accents that give an air of authenticity. Immediately the listener is immersed in a place so colorfully depicted through both the written and spoken word that the time slips past and Proulx's wild forests settle in all around. The novel is indeed a sweeping saga, but Proulx and Petkoff are the duo to make the time seem too short. A transporting listen. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 5, 2016
    It’s a pleasure to listen to Petkoff’s low-key, straightforward reading of Proulx’s ambitious novel that spans 300 years and multiple locations. His reading is well paced and his diction clean and clear. But he faces the near-impossible task of rendering the foreign sentence structures and accented English dialogue of a huge variety of international characters in different periods of history. Proulx’s characters are French, English, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, Dutch, Chinese, American, Canadian, and Native American. The pidgin English of Native American men, women, and children is especially distracting for the listener when read aloud, for it turns the listener’s focus from the story to the accents. A Scribner hardcover.

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Barkskins
Barkskins
A Novel
Annie Proulx
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