My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Epic and sometimes gruesome novel spanning the three centuries it took to rob North America of its ancient forest and the first inhabitants of their traditional ways of life. The writing is as monumental as the white pine that white men craved; both have the substance to stop you in your tracks. But its 700+ pages seem to contain an equally huge number of lives, so that no single character has a chance to take centre stage. In fact, several are introduced just so that we can hear another wince-inducing anecdote of death. Even for a historical fiction, the dark glee with which the many and varied demises are related--from a simple tomahawk through the brain in the early days, to a bizarre accident involving an exploding ship that caused a tsunami to wipe out a First Nation village--is relentless. Some might say Proulx makes the over-arching point that the forest outlasts these petty humans in duration and importance and therefore deserves to take the lead role. There is also a tendency to proselytise a Message with the same frequency and predictability of falling timber crushing another poor, doomed barkskin who can't handle his ax. The novel starts in 1693 with a settler's assertion that "the forest has no end and no beginning"; by 2013, a distant relative visits the collapsing polar ice cap that she "thought all her life was a permanent feature". Proulx's Message could not be clearer or more important.