The cast in Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins, is enormous. It rapidly grows as each chapter follows generations of fur traders, adventurers and would be entrepreneurs  from the old world to the new. The family tree ( no pun intended) expands and the blood line grows to encompasses Native Americans and Native Canadians.  The story landscape ranges from Europe to the Canadian Maritimes, China, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest.

Barkskins  makes a profound environmental statement as the perceived good folks along with lots of bad guys begin their devastation of the American colonial landscape long before mechanization and 19th Century greed. It is the era of wood,  white pine,  New England ship building ,the axe, logging, spring river runs and hard men who live harder lives in the deep woods.

“A thousand men could not cut all this in a thousand years.”  But they did.  ” He hated the American clear-cut despoliation, the insane waste of sound valuable wood, the destruction of the soil, the gullying and erosion, the ruin of the forest world, with no thought for the future.”   A strong woman  inherits a modest lumber enterprise  and converts it into a family fortune by developing a mechanized deforestation machine.

The book is not just about the forests but of the devastation brought upon the native people of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine.  It is the sad saga so often heard of American expansion, this time telling the story of the Mi’Kmaq.

“Now when the forest were gone there had never been so few Mi’Kmaq since the beginning of time, less than fifteen hundred, the remains of a people who had numbered more than one hundred thousand in the time before the white-man came.”

A fortune created by destroying the forests and an entire Indian culture. In the end a desperate search for an heir to the ill-gotten gains, and it comes full circle. Who is the family?

You may work at this read in the beginning but you will quickly be captured. Such  brilliant writing.

Annie Proulx is famous for The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain.



It seems coincidental to be posting Larry McMurtry’s semi-autobiographical  novel The Last Picture Show on the morning after the Oscars. The 1961 book became the screen play for the 1971 motion picture adaptation starring Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman and Timothy Bottoms as Sonny ( presumably Larry McMurtry).  The picture won two Academy Awards with a total of eight nominations and was followed by a sequel based on McMurtry’s  novel Texasville. McMurtry grew up in West Texas  thus becoming the natural setting for The Last Picture Show.  Surely the book is McMurtry’s coming of age in a everybody knows everybody small town with little to do and less to offer.


” Sometimes Sonny felt like he was the only human creature in the town. There was only one car parked on the courthouse square-the night watchman’s old white Nash. A cold norther was singing in off the plains, swirling long ribbons of dust down Main Street, the only street in Thalia with businesses on it. Sonny’s pick up was a 41 Chevrolet, not at its best on cold mornings. In front of the picture show it coughed out and had to be choked for a while but then it stared again and jerked its way to the red light, blowing out spumes  of  white exhaust that the wind whipped way.”

Enter the cast of characters, buddies, girl friends, oil field rough necks , the pool hall king, the football coach and his unfulfilled wife, Roberta ( Mrs. Popper). “When Sonny kissed Mrs. Popper outside the Legion Hall it seemed to him that the whole spectrum of delicious experience lay suddenly within his grasp.” And so goes this marvelous adventure of growing up i the 1950s in what could be a hundred other American small towns.  McMurtry’s brilliance nails nearly every nuance  of teens stumbling into adulthood.

It is fitting that we post The Last Picture Show during Oscar week. McMurtry is the author of some 40 screenplays including Lonesome Dove  and he co-authored the screen play for Brokeback Mountain. He has also written thirty highly acclaimed novels including Lonesome Dove for which he won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The book was the basis of the TV series and the blockbuster motion picture of the same name.  Search for overviews of McMurtry’s other great series of books on the American West.