Apparently I really am not a fan of anything Annie Proulx writes. I found The Shipping News lacking in real understanding of, and research into, life in Newfoundland, Brokeback Mountain infuriatingly misrepresentative of gay life and understanding, and I’ve found the same true in Barkskins.
However, at least with the former novels there was a clear end in sight. The novels did tie up all the threads quite neatly, quite succinctly. But in Barkskins, Proulx not only displayed her lack of regard for intimate research, but clearly demonstrated her inability to edit her own interminable work. She told the same story over and over again. The same theme. The same characters with different names, in different locations. But it was all endlessly the same beige and uninteresting story.
Now, I realize I fly in the face of much of popular acclaim. She has been honoured with some considerable literary awards. But I don’t know why. And I’ve tried. I’ve examined her prose: nothing arresting or startling there, certainly nothing that would even approach the likes of Boyden, Crummey, Atwood or Mistry. Her plots are predictable. Her characters are little wooden pieces she takes out of the box and moves around on a board which is flat and uninteresting. She purports to write sensitively about sensitive subjects, but I find her work voyeuristic and without true understanding or compassion. She writes ABOUT subjects, not WITHIN subjects.
So, what is Barkskins about? Forestry. Plain and simple. And logger barons. Also plain and simple. That’s it. There’s no real human underpinning, no cultural revelations. It’s a long and boring fictional essay.
Read or not. Knock yourself out.