Wow! I have to give this book 5 stars. Proulx’s writing was amazing and engaging, despite the story being about as bleak as possible. Any romantic notions one might have had about rural Vermont living are pretty much ripped to shreds by this story. It follows multiple characters across 40+ years, watching the lives and farm of the Blood family unfold (or implode, depending upon how you look at it.) The oldest son is forced to leave home under circumstances that are never really explained- we know the outcome of what he did, but not why, or how- and that sets in motion a chain of events that will determine the fates of all the other family members. We follow him across the country, through various jobs, watching his life intertwine with multiple colorful characters, most of whom we don’t read about for more than a few pages, but who Proulx manages to bring to life with a minimum of prose.
I think the mere fact that there was so little real drama- just the subtle dramas of day to day life, punctuated with tragedy & misfortune- and it was almost 350 pages and the author still kept me hanging on until the last page says more about the book than I could if I wrote an in depth review. I will say, if decay, disease, disaster, poverty, and loneliness are not themes you can sit with, you might want to shy away from this book. I came away from it feeling as full as a several course meal, but I can see where someone who was hoping for reflections on redemption or hope or the resiliency of the human spirit or familial love…..you’re likely going to be pretty disappointed, perhaps even deeply dismayed.
Overall, it was long, slow, depressing, dispiriting, and totally enjoyable. Well done.