The Shipping News was one of my favorite books–ever. This novel, Accordion Crimes
by the same author was not as engaging but a darned good read in its own right. The metaphor or theme was pure genius: a small green accordion which was passed from owner to owner over the decades, and character sketches of its various owners.
Written in 1996, the novel has been called by critics, “a masterpiece of storytelling.” It begins in 1890s’ Sicily, where the accordion maker fashions the small, elegant accordion. He and his son immigrate to America with dreams of opening a music store. They come to live in New Orleans, and when the accordion maker is murdered, the green accordion falls into the hands of someone who carried it onward to Iowa, then to Texas.
The music of the accordion is the “last link to their pasts ” for Mexicans, Africans, Poles, Germans, Norwegians, Irish, Basques, and Franco Canadians, as the instrument moves from owner to owner, family to family. It “becomes their voice[s] for their fantasies, sorrows, and exuberance[s],” all of which Proulx shares with the reader. The novel introduces many, many characters, each a representative of their ethnicity as the accordion travels across the continent and back. There is a surprise ending, which brings the reader’s memory all the way back to a forgotten event/detail. This novel is a darned good read.
The most impressive thing about this massive novel by Annie Proulx is its size–717 pages. And, I’m so glad I tackled this big book because it is a book I will continuously look back on and never forget. Prior to reading Barkskins, Proulx’s The Shipping News, first the book, then the film, was one of my all-time favorites. This novel has been described as “…epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic…” and it delivers on all counts.
Barkskins narrates the story of two Frenchmen with nothing to their names and is set in Canada, then known as New France. We follow the Sel and Douquet families for several generations (the families’ charts at the end of the book will explain all the connections). Proulx is a wonderful storyteller, and the story she tells carries the reader along like the great rivers described in the story. Some parts are humorous, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Roughing It. Her “enchanting descriptions” are poetic in themselves, and her characterization skills demonstrate that she understands the human heart. Characters’ motives are always clear, whether they be admirable or dastardly.
It took me months, picking up and putting down this volume for periods of time to finish, but I am so glad I did. This book is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to be swept along by magnificent narrative and captivated by the history of the barkskins (wood cutters) and their descendants, the undertaking is worth it!