Barkskins

By Annie Proulx (read by Robert Petkoff)

HarperCollins (audiobook)

4/5 stars

Barkskins was a decade in the writing, apparently, but Annie Proulx wasn’t slacking. Set over three centuries, the print ver­sion is 736 pages, or 25 hours of audiobook. The action begins in the late 17th century, as René Sel and Charles Duquet arrive in “New France” (“Current Canada” to you and me). Proulx follows the two families that spring from their rough-hewn loins as they inhabit the land, profit from it and eventually all but destroy it. While Sel marries a Mi’kmaw woman and attempts to navigate a fraught relationship with his adopted land, Duquet becomes Duke and exploits it for all he’s worth. Robert Petkoff has an attractive, easy way of narration. He tackles the French with nonchalance and is adept with the visceral violence of the settlers and the more metaphorical aggression of their descendants. The novel manages to be both a hymn to natural beauty and a warning about our abuse of it.