Closet Flo
Closet Flo

Outfit inspiration + my thoughts on Barkskins by annie proulx

Barkskins by Annie Proulx is one of those long, sweeping sagas of several family generations that I absolutely love reading about. And by long, I mean 713 pages....721 if you count the family trees listed in the back. 


The two families featured in the book are the Dukes (formerly Duquette) and the Sels. We follow their story from 1693 - 2013. Uniting the two families is the timber industry and its consequences on the environment and native tribes beginning in Canada (called New France) and moving to North America, Europe and New Zealand. 


Barkskins are loggers who have come to work the timber industry in New France. Most are men from parts of Europe who have come to this new world to make their fortunes by working in exchange for land. Both Charles Duquette and Rene Sel, the first protagonists of the story start out this way. 

 As much as I love reading about families and their legacies spanning across generations, there were so many characters in Barkskins that it was a little hard for me to keep them straight. Maybe it was all of the unfamiliar French names, but I had to constantly look through the family tree charts to remember who was whose child or whose father, etc. Also, chapters went back and forth between the two families which added to my confusion. 

There is no doubt in my mind that the life of a barkskin and their families, especially in the 16th century, was rough and short-lived to say the least. Not to mention the native tribes affected by the depletion of their resources and land by these new settlers. The challenges and constant loss of these characters is heart wrenching. But to me, many of them were killed off so quickly that it was hard for me to be invested in them. 


Two character stories that really stood out to me were those of Lavinia Breeley and Junot Sel. Lavinia's story was so captivating to me because she was a total badass for a woman of her time. She was smart, enterprising, unapologetic and didn't let any man push her around, not even her beloved father, James. Without giving too much of the story away, she essentially started over from scratch and built an empire on her own. 


Junot Sel's story for me was so heartbreaking because there is nothing so tragic as when a character goes through all kinds of hell and continues to try and try and try. He came from a line of Mi'kmaq tribe descended from Frenchman, Rene Sel, who struggles to make sense of their identity as half French and half Mi'kmaq, their place in changing times and where their loyalties lie in terms of ethnicity and family. He is also described as someone who was "different as some Mi'kmaw of the old days were different." 

So, what would I say is my main takeaway from Barkskins? It's hard to conclude just one thing. The obvious is how the early logging industry, the beliefs and ignorance of the early settlers contributed to deforestation and its consequences on the present day environment. Except for a few forward thinking minds, they believed that the forests were so vast that there would always be timber for the taking and that it was their God given right to do so. Of course, they never dreamed of how it would affect future generations, their only concern was how it would affect the bank accounts of their future generations. In my mind, maybe the lesson of this long tale is that the current generation will always be paying for the (well-intentioned) antics of their ancestors.