Sunday, November 14, 2010

"The Shipping News" by E. Annie Proulx

Summary: After the death of his promiscuous and cruel wife, Quoyle is left--lost and timid as always--with his two daughters, Bunny and Sunshine.  When his aunt suggests moving back to Newfoundland, where the family originated, Quoyle agrees.  In Newfoundland Quoyle begins working for The Gammy Bird, a local newspaper, and slowly begins to realize love can exist without misery.

Musings: The Shipping News is a much-heralded book, having won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, so going in I had certain expectations.  And while The Shipping News was not a book I loved, it is a book with a well-crafted locale and characters, and I can see the merit in the novel.

Proulx's novel has a jilted style characterized by fragments and phrases, as well as long catalogs of lists.  Although it reinforced a certain mood, I found the wording, at times, distracting and distancing.

Furthermore, as seems to be popular with literary fiction these days, the protagonist, Quoyle, is a rather lethargic and pathetic figure when the book begins.  He has certainly been beaten down, both by his father and his wife, but his sluggish path through life made it difficult for me to be interested.

However, when the book's setting switches to Newfoundland, both Quoyle and I began to perk up.  The home of Quolye's ancestors is able to revive something in Quoyle, as he has the space to discover his love for his children, his care for a mother of a child with special needs, and his aptitude for the newspaper business.  Quoyle's shift in attitude is also precipitated by the presence of a cast of interesting and diverse characters.  In small, almost negligible moments, the reader learns about each character's past and present.

The Shipping News is not a book with a clear climax or a standard story arc.  The book follows the lives of Quoyle and the people around him in an ordinary way, and it is only when the reader reaches the end that he or she realizes the change and development that has occurred over the last three hundred pages.

***This book qualifies for the Books of the Century Reading Challenge.

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