Barkskins is no walk in the park; at 713 pages, instead, it is a trek through multiple forests. The story begins as two French men disembark a ship in New France. After both working for the same boss for a time, each goes off on his own. Rene marries a Native American medicine woman. He and she work the forest sustainably. Charles eventually looks for someone who can provide him heirs for the wealth he plans to make in the lumber industry. Each man has sons and those sons have sons until the trek through the forest became also a trek through a widening family tree.
About three-fourths of the way through the novel, I lost the thread of who-belonged-to-whom. New generations spring up as fast as the old ones pass away. (No two characters die in the same way – peculiar deaths, ironically, provide a comic theme throughout the novel). And as the generations enfold, the forests disappear. Rene’s family is run out of their native land while Charles’ family business, Duke and Sons, eats up Maine, then Michigan, then Australian forests. I eventually decided not to lose the forest for the trees. I forged ahead in the story, not bothering to keep track of family ties but to find out how these two families would meet up again.
The coming together of the families, in a plot twist, also brings about a healing of the forests. The book ends on a hopeful, yet sobering note, not to be left in its pages. We readers take it to heart, having traveled so far, over some 300 years, with our character-friends.