The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel

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“A stunning debut novel. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas encompasses a wealth of superb writing, mature insights, and breathtaking risks . . .”

A stunning debut novel. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas encompasses a wealth of superb writing, mature insights, and breathtaking risks. Joan Ashby emerges as a substantial and realistic character; you can scarcely believe this is a feat of fiction and not biography. The book is not without some minor flaws—a kitschy ending, too many interruptions to the narrative with extraneous material, and some less than credible synchronistic events.

But even these glitches cannot mar the impact and power of the novel.

Wolas places under the microscope and through decades the nuances and expectations of marriage, where two people who love one another yet never truly know each other, gradually grow into two different people. She also microscopically examines motherhood and parent-child bonds.

Joan Ashby, in her early twenties was a rising, celebrated author of two international, bestselling short story collections. Since girlhood she had plotted the path of lifelong authorship: “Read great literature every day. Write every day. Rewrite every day. Avoid crushes and love. Do not entertain any offer of marriage. Never ever have children. Never allow anyone to get in my way.”

Surprising herself Joan falls in love with a handsome eye surgeon, Martin Manning, and marries him once he promises to never to ask her to bear children. Yet she soon falls pregnant and agonizes: “If she had this baby, it meant a second baby, Joan understood that now; the only discussion would be one of timing. Martin would want to create a foundation of family, Manning children . . . The opposite of how Joan lived her life, the opposite of what she required for her work. She knew other women managed both, had for centuries. But most of those women desired motherhood . . . she did not want motherhood, had no underlying faith in her ability to negotiate the enormity of the obligation, had no interest in the supposed majesty of the experience.”

Daniel is born and to her surprise, Joan falls in love with him, dotes on him, and gives up writing (despite her publisher’s admonishments) to tend to him. A strange, young woman, Fancy, enters their lives as Daniel’s nanny. She and Joan bond, and as Joan leaves her writing life behind, she embraces young motherhood, all the commitments of domestic life, and together with Fancy sets up flower and vegetable gardens, orchards and glens on the Manning four-acre property. Several years later Eric is born and mothering him proves to be much more difficult for Joan; she does not bond with this baby as she has with Daniel. Eric is born with an independent streak.

The narrative takes a darker twist when—years later—11-year-old Daniel, a voracious and advanced reader, who has been writing stories about a squirrel named Henry that garners his parents’ praise and pulls the mother-son bond ever tighter, suddenly discovers that his mother is a famous writer. The fact that she hid this part of her life from him, never said a word about her writing, is a shock that ends his burgeoning promise to follow on her path, and strains their bond. This sin of omission (for which she has a well thought through rationale) sets in motion a series of events that a decade later will shatter Joan’s life.

The Manning family is brilliant: Joan the fêted writer; Martin, a pioneer in eye surgery practices that he shares internationally; Daniel, venture capitalist and graduate of Wharton Business School; and Eric, the child Joan could never truly connect with, who drops out of school at 13 when his computer coding skills lead to the creation of a start-up hi-tech company that he sells and at age 22 is a billionaire.

In Wolas’ pages, Joan’s fully embodied motherhood, despite her ambiguous doubts about her role, are brilliantly accurate. Every mother who has sacrificed her ambition and talents for motherhood will find she is reading about herself. Every husband and wife whose marriage is torn apart will gain new perspectives from reading this novel. Every adult child who wonders about their parents’ relationship to one another and to themselves and their siblings will find a mirror shard here.

After a major bombshell blows the family apart, Joan leaves the Manning home in the Virginia suburbs and heads alone to Dharmashala, India, a place and country that has long fascinated her. Here she works hard to reclaim her shattered sense of self: “She is returning to her own beginning, in solitude, writing away—does she want to alter the rhythm, the joy she is at last experiencing again? Her engrained instinct is to keep everything to herself, to keep the facets of her world separated. Like a port-wine birthmark staining the skin over her heart—even if she could remove the mark, laser it away somehow, it would leave behind an outline, a ghost of what she was born into, of the child she became, of the adult who emerged from the ice and flames.”

On one of her excursions into the Himalayan foothills Joan climbs into a temple dug and shaped deep in the rock in the eighth century. She finds herself overcome by the chiseled perfection of the innermost sanctum. She kneels in the stone temple and asks what is she doing precisely:

“Working in words, trying to hurtle herself into her future, undecided about whether, or how extensive, an amputation of her own life is required? She is kneeling in this stone temple, thinking how hard stone is, how it endures for eternity, and when she rises, she knows she is not prepared to leave this remarkable Indian world, not ready to step back into the small world of Virginia, to be with Martin.”

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a remarkable achievement. Cherise Wolas is deserving of the laudatory praise her novel is receiving. A rare book such as this comes along only once in a long while.


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In the Midst of Winter: A Novel

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Well known and adored by millions of readers worldwide, Chilean-American author, Isabel Allende with her 21st novel In the Midst of Winter will please multitudes of her fans and also leave them uneasy. Uneasy because while this novel displays all the Allende hallmarks that made her famous—passages of eloquently expressed ideas, a love story set amid political turmoil, well-drawn characters—fundamentally it lacks cohesive plot tension to hold all the elements together. The novel moves in jumps and starts.

This may be because of the unwieldy structure that cuts across time periods and continents. The clichéd device of hiding a murdered, frozen body in the trunk of a stolen car never achieves the state of noir drama the author may have intended. Rather it undercuts tension and becomes the most slapstick of moments in the novel, as the young, female body lies untended in the trunk of the car while the snow falls. Yet nearby, seemingly oblivious to the corpse, and inside various more or less warmer locales, the three main characters weave and bob around one another telling their stories, until inevitably two of them have furtive sex in clumsily rearranged sleeping bags.

The novel revolves around Evelyn Ortega, a young Guatemalan born, illegal immigrant whose story of escape is harrowing and her story of survival in the United States only slightly less so. Another main character is Lucia Maraz, an older woman, Chilean born who has lived in exile in the United States and Canada for decades. Her work in academia has thrown her and Richard Bowmaster uneasily together. He is her curt landlord, and they work in the same department and university. Richard, a sixty-year-old reclusive man, seems impervious to human empathy as he moves through his almost monastic, stripped down life. Yet he carries the secrets of a disastrous marriage to a passionate Brazilian woman earlier in his life. In their life in Rio de Janiero several devastating family tragedies left him emotionally frozen and insecure.

As the novel unfolds the three are thrown together when, on a frozen and slippery road in Brooklyn, Richard rear ends the car 20-something Evelyn is driving. A minor accident that draws into the novel the murdered body in the trunk of Evelyn’s car. Richard summons Lucia to help with translating Evelyn’s panicked responses. This is where the novel goes off kilter. The events of dealing with the body have none of the power of the three life stories. The protagonists could as easily have been sitting around a campfire sharing their stories.

Evelyn’s story is among the best writing in the book. Allende uses her background in Chile and her admirable lifelong stand for human rights (evident in most of her work) in relating this story. We learn the painful truth of the escape path from Guatemala, through Mexico, to the United States border. And of the indifference of U.S. border officials who daily deal with hundreds of would-be immigrants. We also learn how illegal immigrants can simply disappear amid millions of Americans if they avoid law enforcement and institutions such as hospitals.

Early in her story, Evelyn shares how as an adolescent she was brutally raped by gang members of the notorious narco-trafficking gang (60,000 members), MS-13, as punishment for their betrayal by her older brother. He is murdered as is another brother, Andres. During the rape Evelyn witnesses Andres’ throat being cut.

After that incident Evelyn cannot or will not speak. Her grandmother takes her to a well-known healer. In one of the most memorable scenes in the book—with Allende’s evocative descriptive power at its best—the healer gives her ayahuasca tea to drink and in a hallucinatory state:

“The visions came in rapid succession. In some of them, her mother appeared as she had last seen her; others were scenes from her childhood, bathing in the river with other children, or at age five riding on the shoulders of her elder brother, a jaguar with two cubs emerged. . . . She surrenders completely to the drug and as she did so, lost all her fear. The mother jaguar returned with her cubs, and Evelyn dared to stroke her on the back. Her fur was rough, with a swamp like feel. The enormous animal accompanied her as she entered and left other visions, watching with her amber eyes, showing her the way when she got lost in abstract labyrinths, protecting her when any evil being came near.”

The healer gives Evelyn an amulet representing the power and protection of the jaguar. In the conclusion of the novel—in a scene reminiscent of Allende’s previous magical realism writing—the jaguar is invoked again.

Allende is a masterly writer when she writes of emotions, and especially of love. “With Lucia, Richard felt as if decades had been ripped from the calendar and he was eighteen again. He had thought he was immune, and yet there he was, like a youngster prey to his hormones. . . . In those divine hours of night, he was accompanied for the first time in twenty-five years; he felt so close to her as they breathed in unison. It was very easy to sleep with her, and very complicated what was happening to him now, this mixture of happiness and terror, of anticipation and the wish to run away; the urgency of desire.”

On the final page of the novel, Richard, in response to a query from Lucia, quotes Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer.”

Ultimately this is a novel of the redemptive recording of oral history and also of healing love. The murder subplot is an unnecessary add-on.


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Stolen Girls: Survivors of Boko Haram Tell Their Story

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“As Bauer writes the fight against Boko Haram is far from over. His final sentence encapsulates Nigeria’s nightmare: ‘We have fear. We have hope.’”

Stolen Girls by Wolfgang Bauer is not an easy read—gruesome and laden with horrifying details—but it is an important one.

The abduction of 267 girls from their boarding school in a rural Nigerian town called Chibok by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram on the night of April 14, 2014, drew worldwide attention.

For days and weeks international TV crews followed the mothers and other family members of the girls as they cried, rent their clothes, and organized protest marches that eventually flared globally centered on the missing girls. “Bring Back Our Girls” became a movement. Boko Haram terror haunted western Nigeria for a decade before, but the girls gave that horror an international face.

Over that decade, thousands of other women, men, and boys have been abducted by Boko Haram and taken to hideouts in swampy rain forests in western Nigeria called Sambisa. Inevitably the world’s attention left Nigeria and the abducted girls. However, German journalist Wolfgang Bauer and his brilliant photographer, Andy Spira, with this book fill the gap.

The book opens with a series of striking photographic portraits of seven of the Chibok girls and older women who were abducted and managed to escape by January 2016. The book is a transcription of the interviews Bauer conducted with a sampling of these 60 women. Bauer provides no commentary on what they say, their words speak for themselves. He asks us to listen. Below are short excerpts from several of the women.

Sadiya: They left me only my name. They took everything else. I am now someone else; I feel that. I am now someone I do not know.

Agnes: I fled from the camp with fifty other women, but made it only to a village on the savannah because I went into labor. They helped me with the baby. It was very painful, giving birth to the baby that the man made inside me. . . . I had no choice but to marry him in the forest. They killed the women who refused. I saw it happen. . . . The child the Boko Haram fighter forced me to bear in the forest is three months old. A man who helped deliver the baby was called Moussa, so he told me to name the baby Moussa. So I did. I don’t care. It’s a name like any other. Let him be Moussa. . . . I don’t love this child. . . . This baby cries much more than my other children did when they were young. I look at it a lot and think I have to feel something for it. But I feel nothing. I should have killed it.

Rabi: A fighter stopped me. “Where are you going?” he wanted to know. “I am going home to my mother,” I said. . . . He took me to a house with many women inside. I do not know how many there were anymore. They were being taught lessons from the Koran in order to be married later. They kept me for a week there. Then a man came for me. I was terrified; I thought he would kill me. But he did not hit me. He led me away from the building with the girls and then beat me at his home. He beat me cruelly. With a stick. My back bled. My skin split open. He threatened to kill my mother if I ran away again.

He is an evil man. He should be beheaded. His head should be sliced off.”

Bauer intersperses the transcriptions of the victims with a history of Boko Haram and an interpretation of their dystopian beliefs. These notes are helpful and round out the almost too painful to read testimony of the women. He ends his book with a warning “if the political structures finally collapse in Nigeria, and if no viable alternative to them is found, chaos will ensue, and various radicalized factions will clash in an attempt to create a new order and balance. The shock waves will quickly reach Europe and the Western world.”

This prediction we already know to be true about places like Libya and Syria and the mammoth refugee crisis. And as Bauer writes the fight against Boko Haram is far from over. His final sentence encapsulates Nigeria’s nightmare: “We have fear. We have hope.”


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Long Black Veil: A Novel

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“All the twists and turns and deliberate obfuscation of characters names and identities and piled on bizarre coincidences in overly descriptive scenes, only add to the Byzantian complexity of what essentially is a standard thriller with noire and horror elements.”

Long Black Veil by well-reputed author Jennifer Finney Boylan, although a page-turner, is a cumbersome read. From the first pages, set in the abandoned and supposedly haunted Eastern State Penitentiary prison outside of Philadelphia, a motley group of eight recently graduated college friends (one with a younger brother tagging along) undergo a horrifying experience and the loss of one of their members. This character’s disappearance languishes in police files as a cold case murder. No spoilers below.

The first chapters are akin to entering a maze, and as the book progresses there are more dead ends and false starts than any inkling of a clear path to the safe center. After several confusing chapters, astute readers may have the characters straightened out, but the hard work demands too much.

Decades (and chapters) later when these now estranged friends meet again and readers sense that Boylan is about to tie up the loose ends—solution to the murder, muted reconciliation among the group and justice served—the maze center safely gained, readers are in for more surprises. All the twists and turns and deliberate obfuscation of characters names and identities and piled on bizarre coincidences in overly descriptive scenes, only add to the Byzantian complexity of what essentially is a standard thriller with noire and horror elements.

The strongest parts of the book occur when Boylan writes from the point of view of the trans character who finds marginal redemption. This is not surprising as Boylan herself is trans and her character’s experience rings powerfully true.

Also memorable are the scenes from a macabre student arts festival event in the abandoned prison. These overheated scenes with masked celebrants flitting in shadows, evokes similar scenes of Venetian masked celebrations as described in Jeanette Winterson’s book The Passion.

Boylan is a prolific and strong writer. At her best she evokes the hair-raising chills Joyce Carol Oates can. But this book is not her best.


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“This book is a breath of fresh air.”

Born A Crime is a rollicking ride of a book, an enjoyable feast of storytelling. Deservedly it is already a number one bestselling book. Combining comedy and tragedy, the book covers the dying days of apartheid in South Africa and the uncertain dawn of a new age as Nelson Mandela tries to birth a Rainbow Nation out of a horrific, nationalist, racist past.

Trevor Noah’s autobiography of his childhood and adolescence in this perilous, shifting landscape cleverly avoids polemical statements and moral platitudes. Instead he describes a resilient and opportunistic child and teenager whose intuitive street smarts lead him into a hustler’s life. The very facts of how he learns to navigate the political currents swirling around him provides vivid commentary on those challenging times for South Africa.

The book begins and ends with chapters on his mother. She is a woman of unbreakable religious faith. Sundays with Mom mean attending three different churches in three different parts of Johannesburg and environs.

Mrs. Noah is a formidable woman. She knowingly broke apartheid laws designating as a crime sexual intercourse between people of different races. Yet, she moved into a “gray” area (neither white nor black-only residences) with a man she loved, a Swiss man. Wanting a child she persuaded him to be the father.

When Trevor was born she moved back to her mother in Soweto, the sprawling black township near Johannesburg. Trevor became accustomed to clandestine visits to his father. He learned that if they were out in public he could not call him “Dad” and must walk alongside his mother but several steps behind his father. In later years his father moved to Cape Town, and they lost contact.

Trevor does not enjoy church and argues continually with his mother about her Sunday regime. But she is steadfast in her faith overcoming all obstacles an inadequate transport system throws in her way. Only when he was an older teenager and living away from home did Trevor stop going to church.

By then we have learned of his mother’s marriage to a Tsonga man, a master mechanic, Abel, and of their move to a previously “whites only” suburb where Abel houses his business. Eventually Trevor has two younger brothers, Andrew and Isaac.

Early on Trevor experiences being on the receiving end of Abel’s strength, wrath and other ravages his alcoholism bring. But this move does not only portend tragedy. Fortuitously it also provides Trevor with a shot at better schooling. He is now enrolled in previous “whites only” schools.

At junior high and high school, Trevor encounters the heartache of crushed love. He struggles to find his identity as a so-called “colored” youth, unacceptable to both the black kids at school and the white. His identity crisis also creates opportunities as he uses his entrepreneurial instincts to keep himself busy and earn some money.

“My life of crime started off small. Selling pirated CDs on the corner. That in itself was a crime, and today I feel I owe all these artists money for stealing their music, but by hood standards it didn’t even qualify as illegal. At the time it never occurred to any of us that we were doing anything wrong—if copying CDs is wrong, why would they make CD writers?”

Trevor graduates from high school and wants to study computer programming at university, but the family does not have the money to pay for his studies. Unemployment among black youth is as high as 50 percent. For the last two years of his adolescence, Trevor, living away from home, and along with friends, works the streets of seedy and dangerous Alexandria Township selling pirated CDs, DJ’ing wherever invited, and working deals for other hustlers that give him and his cronies a cut of the profit.

Inevitably, the day arrives where he is stopped by the cops and arrested for driving a stolen car. The car belongs to Abel but Trevor “borrowed” it and put on false number plates. He cannot find the registration papers. Through guile he avoids a jail sentence but after describing a week in a holding pen awaiting trail, we see fully that the new black police force is as brutal as their white predecessors.

The book ends on a poignant note. Trevor, in his twenties and working as a stand-up comic, on Sunday morning is called by one of his younger brothers and told Abel shot their mother. Her life had moved on from Abel having divorced him and married again. One Sunday in a drunken rage he sought her out and shot her. Miraculously she survives, and Noah writes movingly of how her near-death experience highlights their indestructible bond and how much having her as his mother shaped his life.

Once she is out of danger they sit on her hospital bed, “She broke into a huge smile and started laughing. Through my tears I started laughing too. I was bawling my eyes out and laughing hysterically at the same time. We sat there and she squeezed my hand and we cracked each other up the way we always did, mother and son. Laughing together through the pain in an intensive-care recovery room on a bright and sunny and beautiful day.”

This book is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully a sequel is in the works. We wonder how Trevor Noah made the leap from stand-up comic in South Africa to anchor The Daily Show as Jon Stewart’s successor in New York.


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After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey through Darkness to a New Beginning: A Memoir by Helaine Hovitz

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Release Date:
September 5, 2016
Carrel Books
Pages: 480
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“Hovitz had the grit, determination and resources to pull herself out of the morass of PTSD. What about the rest of her generation growing up in this post-September 11 world?”

Author Helaina Hovitz in her book After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey Through Darkness to a New Beginning provides us with a timely account of the seen and unseen damage searing experiences and memories shape.

In the book Hovitz shares her memories of that dread filled morning on September 11, 2001, when a neighbor, Ann, collected her children and then 12-year old Hovitz from their middle school as it was evacuated.

“’Don’t look up, don’t look back, just keep going!’’ Hovitz writes: “I was tiny so I had to fight my way through walls of people. . . . Before it was fun. An adventure. Now, it suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe, and maybe I couldn’t. In fact, I felt like I was going to faint. . . . ‘Oh my God, they’re jumping!’ Ann said . . . I kept hearing more sounds. Some reminded me of the crashing and grinding of garbage trucks, others of a heavy box suddenly dropped on the ground, others, still, hail hitting a window, only heavier, like a giant bag full of nails, creaking, slamming, booming.”

How does anyone survive psychologically intact from such horror experienced at the onset of adolescence—or at any age? But millions of New Yorkers have had to cope with PTSD to a greater or lesser degree after September 11 and so have many hundreds of millions of Americans, and indeed people from around the globe. Our world changed that day, and we are still dealing with the seismic aftershocks.

Helaina Hovitz, in understated prose, takes us with her on her path away from PTSD. She does not shy away from nor minimize the effects of her trauma. Years of therapy and counseling, growth into adulthood with not so deeply buried horrific memories that threaten to overcome her at any moment, panic attacks, her descent into sexual acting out, and alcoholism are all vividly laid out for us.

For Helaina, a university graduate, the path ends more or less happily at “This.”  “’This’ would be finalizing a book. ‘This’ would be attempting, with no prior business whatsoever to start-up a news service exclusively focused on inspiring and hopeful stories about people who are trying to make the future better.’ ‘This’ was dealing with chronic pain, for almost a ten years by then, trying tons of doctors and medications and therapies and getting nowhere.’ ‘This’ was doing it all stone-cold sober.’”

Hovitz had the grit, determination and resources to pull herself out of the morass of PTSD. What about the rest of her generation growing up in this post-September 11 world? How many of them have a shot at new beginnings akin to Helaina’s?

Recently on August 17, 2016, we were reminded of the devastating effects of such trauma when we saw the infinitely tragic image of Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy sitting in an ambulance seat in Aleppo, his hair, face and body covered in ash and blood. Since 9/11 so many hundreds of thousands of children have suffered death or grievous physical and psychological trauma in the Middle East and other conflicts. We read and see their stories daily in the media.

Throughout history witness-bearers through their stories provide personal glimpses into historic events that can otherwise become dates and place names and statistics. Hovitz’s book opens a window on one person’s journey in the aftermath of September 11. She has rendered a valuable service in adding her voice to the memory of this momentous interstice in world history.


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Barkskins: A Novel by Annie Proulx

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“Over 300 years the forests are raped, eco-systems destroyed, wealth generated, and the insatiable international desire and greed for wood exploited.”

Annie Proulx, the author of Barkskins is an accomplished American writer. She has achieved the status of grande dame of American letters and deservedly so. An earlier book, The Shipping News, is a stellar work, one with teeth and grit, lyricism and poignancy, dark as well as magical moments. That book remains a pioneer at the frontier of American fiction, as her protagonist, Quoyle, exists in one of the first portrayals of a single father as a heroic figure through the travails and triumphs of his small, dysfunctional family.

If readers hope for more of the same in Barkskins they will be disappointed. The book is overlong, the storylines confusing, the insertion of pages and pages of albeit interesting facts about daily life in the towering, primeval forests—the utensils, the logging tools, the clothes, the traditions, rites and rituals of all the people who meet, clash, and intermingle—are shared in almost overwhelming detail, so as to slow and even disrupt the novel. It is as if Proulx insisted on using all the detail she had accumulated in her ten years of research and writing of Barkskins. At the very moment we are engrossed in one of the story lines we are dragged back to arcane documentation.

The book opens in 1693 when two indentured Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in Canada—New France—to serve as woodcutters for an eccentric feudal lord who built a grand chateau deep in the forests for his future bride (when he finds one).

Sel is forced to marry a native Mi’kmaw woman, and his progeny, through generations, vacillate between the two worlds of their generators—French frontiersmen and native Canadians or “original people.”

Duquet escapes his servitude to gain a foothold on the wealth the territory offers through fur-trapping, trading, and later enterprising forays into timber. He founds, and his descendants (later changing their last name to Duke), now timber barons, forge an international empire.

Both families’ genealogical lines are tied to trees, natural disasters, unexpected plot twists and turns—in frontier Quebec, then Michigan and hundreds of years later in the kauri forests of New Zealand.

Over 300 years the forests are raped, eco-systems destroyed, wealth generated, and the insatiable international desire and greed for wood exploited.

Overall the writing is fluid, and as would expect of Proulx her characters are exposed to states of the human condition from veniality to love. There are too many characters and episodes to cite here, but among the most intriguing is the union of Kuntaw, one of Sel’s grandsons and Beatrix Duquet, a granddaughter of Charles, and their life near the Penobscot people, river and bay in Maine. This union (although they never married) is one where descendants of the Sel and Duquet families unknowingly for many years in the second half of the eighteenth century, amalgamated their lives. They had no offspring.

Kuntaw and Beatrix meet on the muddy banks of the river:

He stood a few yards back from the horse and looked at the girl. She was elegant, wearing a black cloak edged in red. Something about her dark-ivory face said she was part Indian.

“You like to make some money?” she asked moving close. She lifted her head and inhaled his odor of smoke, meat and pine pitch.

He shrugged. “What do?”

“Split wood of course.” She enunciated very carefully. ‘You carry an ax. Do you know how to split firewood?”

He nodded. “I know.”

“I need you, Indian man. Follow.” Beatrix Duquet turned her horse and trotted gracefully toward the big house, he had to run to keep up with her. Watching her long crinkled hair sway, the bright heels of her boots, he felt a wave of enchantment strike him like warm rain. So, in his thirtieth spring, began the strangest part of his life, as he seemed to stumble out of the knotted forest and onto a shining path.

Barkskins is an epic saga but unlike many of James Michener’s epic historical sagas or others such as The Thornbirds by Australian, Colleen McCullough, or Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, to name only a few, Barkskins does not have the sweep and flow of history that keeps one reading through the night.

Perhaps the material here would be better served as eco-nonfiction, such as John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, Bill McKibbon’s The End of Nature, or Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring and influence this and successive generations to save the planet and specifically in Proulx’s case, the forests that are left on our planet before they are denuded; however, as eco-fiction it falls below Annie Proulx’s admittedly extraordinarily high standards.

Perhaps her intention all along is to write a cautionary tale about the environmental catastrophe we have already wrought.

Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go well together. —George Santayana

By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feeling of natural objects. —Lynn White, Jr.

These epigraphs certainly suggest the reason for Annie Proulx’s book encompassing the polemical tilt toward recording so thoroughly this irreparable damage.


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