Thursday, May 14, 2009

34. The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx

History: The Shipping News, was published in 1993, won the National Book Award for Fiction, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and it was also made into a film.
Plot: Quoyle's life is suddenly and forever changed by a rapid succession of momentous events. His parents, both diagnosed with cancer, commit suicide -- his father leaves a final announcement of the decision on Quoyle's answering machine in his last conscious moments. Quoyle's editor again informs him that he is fired, but that this time it is likely permanent. His wife, after taking and selling their two girls, dies in a car crash while running away to Florida with her latest boyfriend. And Quoyle finally meets his Aunt Agnes, who convinces him that the best thing would be to relocate to his family's ancestral home in Newfoundland. An old (and only) friend of Quoyle's secures him a job writing the shipping news for a paper there, and Quoyle packs up his recovered daughters, his aunt and her dog, and leaves New York for Newfoundland.
They arrive to find the ancestral home in tough shape after years of standing empty. A mysterious white dog plagues daughter Bunny's imagination, while a mad cousin asserts his claim to the house by leaving charmed bits of knotted twine everywhere. The road to the house will be made impassable soon by winter weather, so Quoyle, who cannot swim, is urged by his new coworkers to buy a boat. He makes mistake after mistake in arranging his new life, but also makes a few good moves along the way, and he begins to make a place for himself and his family in this odd little community that lives off the sea.
Quoyle gradually makes friends within the community, learns about his own troubled family background, and begins a relationship with a local woman, Wavey. Quoyle's growth in confidence and emotional strength, as well as his ability to be comfortable in a loving relationship, become the main focus for the book. A series of deep and disturbing secrets about his ancestors emerge in strange ways.
Review: I really liked it. Annie Proulx does a fantastic job writing this novel in a style that places you in the heart of cold, fish-stinky Newfoundland. She then fills that land with such a warm, genuine and quirky cast of characters that you have no choice but to warm up to the novel. by the time you finish, her themes and motifs are very obvious, but she develops them so subtly that they are completely believable and not at all forced.
Opening Line: “Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born to Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.”
Closing Line: “And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”
Quotes: “Jack, like many men who spend their days in hard physical labor, went slack when he sat in an easy chair, sprawled and spread as if luxury jellied his muscles.”
Rating: Very Good

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