At 700+ pages, Annie Proulx's latest novel is a multi-generational, historical account of North American Forests and the people who logged and clear cut millions of hectares of virgin pine. It follows the fortunes of the Sels and Duquet families as they become lumbering and sawmill magnates. Their lives are intertwined and begin with the first axmen (barkskins or woodcutters) who faced danger, wilderness and swarming insects. Many died in accidents or of infections when an ax went astray. Eventually, the logging expanded from pines (sought after as ships' masts) to other valuable woods and the pulp industry. The story follows characters in subsequent generations of the Sels and Duquets and M'ikmac people who travel to New Brunswick, Canada and New Zealand for more and bigger trees. Proulx explains how the 18th and 19th century loggers thought the forests were unending and never thought of the exploitation, the changes to the environment and the eventual demise of old growth trees. The impact of the clearing of forests on the M'ikmac indigenous people is explored in this thoughtful and serious book. I do recommend it BUT for myself, I would just get engaged with characters to have them disappear in a line or two as Proulx takes us to the next generation. The Shipping News (winner of the Pultizer Prize for Fiction) and Brokeback Mountain are perhaps her best known works. All have received critical acclaim. If you have time and the inclination for a serious read, I recommend Barkskins.
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