Mary Beth Writes

It took me more than a month to read Annie Proulx’s 700-page novel Barkskins.

Before I return it to the library I am going to attempt to produce a book report here. Not sure if you need to read this as much as I need to write it. When a person lives five weeks with 700 pages, they really ought to know something about where they were and why they stayed there.

I am captivated, and often horrified, by the history of what happened after Europeans immigrated to North America; especially post-Columbus up to (and sometimes including) the American Revolutionary War.  From what I have read and learned, so many people and leaders during these centuries were energetic, self-satisfied, unquestioning, inventive, religious, desperate, avaricious, faith-filled, brave - and utterly disrespectful of the natural world and of non-European people.  I guess the colonial era seems like a family reunion to me.

Barkskins starts with two rough characters.  Rene’ Sel and Charles Duquet are French immigrant indentured servants who arrive in New France (Canada and northern US along the St Lawrence River) in 1693. They are hired as grunt workers to a greedy, tough, rich guy who has been living in the woods and clearing the forest to build a farm, for years. We soon learn that Rene is plodding, faithful, and asks for very little other than to be given a task and then to be left alone to do it.  Duquet is a duplicitous, selfish, scheming survivor.

Here’s the thing. The most important character in this book is great nearly untouched primeval forest.

The two servants follow the man who will be their new boss and master into the wilderness. “They plunged into the gloomy country, a dense hardwood forest broken by stands of pine…. Here grew hugeous trees of a size not seen not seen in the old country for hundreds of years, evergreens taller than cathedrals, cloud-piercing spruce and hemlock. The monstrous deciduous trees stood distant from each other, but overhead their leaf-choked branches merged into a false sky, dark and savage…”

pines at Copper Falls, WI

Duquet will spawn a family lumber dynasty that will, over centuries, mow down forests around the earth. Rene will marry a native woman; their children will be the lumberjacks who chop the forests owned by Duquet. At one point the two families will unwittingly intermingle, but the privilege that ought to come with that marriage will not happen.

Annie Proulx is one of my favorite writers (Shipping News, short stories that include Brokeback Mountain). She is a master at pulling a reader into rough compelling lives and into gorgeous and inhospitable places.  Barkskins is not a “sweeping family saga” filled with sex, dresses, and dashing heroes. I’ve read Herman Wouk – this is not that.

 What kept me reading is Proulx’s ability to take a reader to a place and time where people are not us. She is a research-maven; she was educated to become a historian. She has been reading histories and first source materials for decades.  She doesn’t invent character and plot so much as she weaves together what she has learned into a long, fascinating, vicious story.

To be able to get to the “character” of people who lived in different centuries and different civilizations – who were trying to figure out and survive the onslaught of western European culture – this is what Annie Proulx does better than anyone else I read.

By the last 100 pages I was frustrated at the plethora of characters she was throwing at us. At the same time, I knew those people; they are the people I’ve met in my life. Some of them seemed one-dimensional to me. I read that last century fast.

But the first several hundred pages will stay in me for a long time. I went some place. I met the people who invented the culture I live in now. I saw the grueling work and witnessed shocking losses and deaths (Proulx knocks off characters in ‘authentic to the time’ ways that will astound you. Not sure I will ever get over the teenager killed as a giant tree catapults up out of a log jam and then missiles down onto the boy’s back. There are more details. I won’t terrify you with them…)

Her rich and cosseted characters seemed almost as much victims as those who truly suffered.  I kept waiting for someone, anyone, to step back far enough to see that it was worldview versus world; it was survival versus the forest. It was greed versus ignorance.

I guess it still is.

Maybe you can’t fathom giving weeks of your life to Barkskins. If you are a little interested, let me suggest this. Give yourself an hour at a bookstore or library. Find the book, find a comfy chair, and sink in and start reading. Go to the primeval wilderness. It was not any more innocent then than it is now. You will meet amazing people right away.  Mari the wise, multi-lingual, acerbic Mi’kmaq woman is awesome.

It is an amazing unraveling epic of forest and fools. We’re the fools.

_____

 

Here is another book review as well as an interview with Proulx. This writer got paid more than me…..   https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/05/annie-proulx-ive-had-a-lif...

Comments

It’s on my bullet reading list ——

Add new comment

CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Freight Trains & Dreams

We are binge-watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I started last week; Len ambled through the living room at the beginning of Season 2, stood a moment to watch, sat down, and last night we finished season 2 together. Stories are good.

As you know, the show is set in the 1950’s and 60’s. Many of us actual Mid-Centurions remember the actual mid-century. Ladies in hats. Pink and white kitchens. Salmon and aqua living rooms. The total culturally approved subjection of all women to all men.

Oh yeah.

"Mistrust Your Sense of Urgency"

Like many of you, I am emerging from my den of “Wow, that was Sure a Full Couple of Months!” I have been either chased by or chasing my calendar since the middle of October. We’ve had a plethora of family get-togethers (we all have birthdays at the end of the year), plus somehow all my dental/medical checkups/appointments ended up around now. Most things we did or attended over the holidays were rich and good, but it still filled days and kept me feeling a little spinny. (Or was that the cough syrup?)

A Public Service Announcement for Sick Season

I started having a big cold on November 12th and I’m not done with it yet. The nasty contagious sneezing and runny nose part was over weeks ago, but I’m still coughing.  Went to walk-in clinic yesterday and now I have an inhaler which seems help my excitable bronchial tubes settle down. I think (knock on wood) this might work.

Kids & Books & Boxes & Paper Towels Tubes

Two things today – both related to schools.

1. I’ve volunteered for three years at Whittier Elementary School in Waukesha.  Once a week I walk out of my world into 3rd grade world and while I am there, my world simply disappears!

If you are the kind of person who is fond of kids who have ordinary and extraordinary challenges with reading and learning and doing kid-math – please consider being a volunteer, too.  You can call up schools near you. 

Location, location, location...

Here is another short MB take on the impeachment hearings.

Why Ukraine?  

Location, location, location.

Trump wanted the Ukrainians to turn the Biden name into a scandal. Trump is obviously in the thrall of Putin; whether this is criminal or simply his dangerous fascination with strongmen is the questions du jour. In any case, it seems likely that Trump Whisperer Putin suggested, “All you need to do is connect Biden to graft and you can win this election. Worked the last time, didn’t it…”?

Because Putin wants to run Ukraine.  

Why?

Follow the money.

When they tell you who they are...

I have a very big cold.  Not all that relevant to you but aggravating to me. Anyway, last night I coughed and woke myself up a lot; I had time in which to to think about the impeachment hearing drama in Washington.  I don’t have that much to say all at once. But I am noting particular things as this goes along and I am going to say them

On Friday Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee harangued about the “the unfairness” of impeachment hearing’s rules.

Tag Cloud

17 minutes AARPtaxes AAUW Acadia Accountable apples Arrows baby balance Barkskins Beauty Becky BookReport boy scout Bread BuyAngry Cahokia calendars Canada cello Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus Clowns clutter consumerism Courage creditreport death December DecisionFatigue decluttering Detroit Dreams Duty eBay Eclipse FairTrade farmer firealarm Fitness Five Flexible flu Fort de Chartres Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal Frugality Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode ghosts GovernorThompsonStatePark Guatemala guns happiness Healthinsurance HelleKBerry heroes History home HomeRepair Honduras HouseinBlueRiver hurricane impeachment Innkeeper integrity Interview InviteMe2Speak JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich justice Karen Lamb LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln LockedOut Love Ludington Macaw Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Mayan MayaWorks MindfulChickens Mistakes Mother mouser movies museums must-haves New York City Nomadland Outside PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon poetry Preaching privacy Quern quest recipe recipes Reruns Retirement RitesofPassage Roses Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd ShortStory sick sickness SofritoBandito SpaceShuttle spring square feet StoryStarts Survival taxes teenager Thanksgiving ThePerpetualYou ThreeBillBoards TidalBore TimeBeing toddler tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing UnrelatedObservations urgency vacation Valentines vanilla Vietnam VivianWokeUpDrowning vole WalkingAndSeeing war WarsanShire weaving wedding WhyAttendChurch WillaCather
Ad Promotion