by Annie Proulx
Best known for having written Brokeback Mountain, Proulx has now written an epic novel spanning several hundred years. In a nutshell, it is about the deforestation of North America (and secondarily, the destruction of forest land in Europe and New Zealand, and of the rain forests of South America). But of course, it is about more than that.
The novel opens in the seventeenth century with two young and illiterate Frenchmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, following a feudal lord through the vast, dense, and seemingly infinite forest of “New France” (Canada). Sel and Duquet are indentured servants, charged with the hard labor of cutting down trees for their cruel seigneur for three years in exchange for small plots of land they can call their own. Duquet is wily, however, and soon runs away and becomes a fur trader. Ever ambitious and determined, he eventually marries well and sets up a timber business. Meanwhile, Sel is forced by his seigneur to marry an Indian woman, for whom he actually develops a genuine affection.
Over the course of the next three hundred years, the lives of Rene Sel’s and Charles Duquet’s descendants intersect and diverge. Meanwhile, both families’ lives are dependent in one way or another on the forests, and the forests diminish by degrees until the modern day when the world is in a state of ecological crisis.
Not only is this a story of disappearing trees and the impact on the earth, but it’s also a story of adventure, violence, endurance, greed, family, and cultural annihilation.
It’s a hefty tome, but well worth the read.