Though I adore Annie Proulx’s work and count her among my favorite authors, Barkskins did not engage me as much as her previous books.
That’s not to say it’s not worthy of praise. It’s magnificently written. It’s also intricately detailed. To declare it as epic may be an understatement considering it follows several generations of two men’s families from the 1700s to present day. It pays an astounding amount of attention to historical fact, the trends and science of deforestation and reforestation, as well as various cultural customs spanning several centuries.
Honestly, I felt like I’d lived several lives by the end of this book, and it taught me much about how difficult surviving in this country proved to be for both Native Americans and the various early explorers, invaders, and settlers. After all, nearly every character meets with a difficult end in this novel. It also made me think about my own family history, as well as what the future may hold for my descendants.
So why didn’t I like it as much as Proulx’s other work? I suppose I found it a little dense and slow. Furthermore, part of what made it brilliant is part of why I didn’t find myself engaged – there are a lot of characters. Too many characters, actually. Six or seven of them I found captivating, but many of the rest were difficult to track and I lost interest in their particular stories.
Frankly, I may not have been in the right frame of mind for a book so demanding of my time and attention. Perhaps I should revisit it in the summer when things are a little slower and I can give it more consideration (and possibly take notes).
As expected, Proulx has delivered a masterfully written book full of such passionate detail and historical authenticity that it’s hard not to appreciate its many positives. In the end, though, I simply found it too long with too many characters that did not consistently hold my interest.