Uncoiling ‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (in the United States). When this award winner for E. Annie Proulx came recommended on a Stephen King recommended reading list put out by a book publisher, so I put the book on the “please buy it” list at the library and, a happy read later, I wind my thoughts together into this review.

The Shipping News tells the story of Quoyle and his two daughters as they uproot their lives following the death of the two-timing wife and mother to the harbor town of Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, Canada. The family reconnects with a place that none of them knows with an aunt of Quoyle’s who remembers a long ago past for the family’s ancestors in this place. The story, too, is an evocation of place much stronger than the movie Manchester By The Sea, a sad 2016 movie that owes much in tone to this book, and perhaps The Shipping News (2001) movie of several years earlier.

The Shipping News 2(Annie Proulx)

Proulx performs well in bringing out a sense of local color both for place and for people in her telling of The Shipping News. The story shows four people, namely the widowed Quoyle, his nameless aunt, and Quoyle’s two young kids, Bunny and Sunshine,  struggling with the sudden changes beset by the death of a cheating wife. The nameless aunt seems more strongly the stand-in narrator for Proulx in The Shipping News, though Quoyle is the clear if befuddled, third-rate newspaper hack protagonist for the story.

That Quoyle was socially inept through the story is much of the launching point of the story. That Quoyle was offered the stabilizing support of an intelligent aunt, a ready job, and a befuddled backwater of a town that lets him earn his keep makes the story all a bit neat. That the mystery of Quoyle and this story rests in his ability to untangle the knot of a new life, or metaphorically to “uncoil” the rope of his family and life story, is the principal tying the story together. I appreciated the metaphorical offerings by Proulx.

Overall, my feeling for this novel is one wherein I feel I’ve been here already. I did mention that Manchester By The Sea seems to have done this plot, though that movie clearly came second. I offer a rating for the book of 3-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Love is a fire burning in The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Love is a fire burning in The Road in Cormac McCarthy‘s rendering of the book carrying this name. The Road is a book about the dark, burnt, nuclear wasteland of what is left after an unnamed, unfathomable, yet detailed nuclear oblivion that occurred.

The tale that is The Road is overwhelmingly a dark, desperate tale of two unnamed characters on a journey to the ocean. Where this tale takes place, what ocean the characters aim to visit, or any sense of purpose beyond survival and the desolate, dependent love of father for son, and son for father, is beyond the point. The unflinching connection, mutual support, and need to keep moving for the sake of love and survival, is the story of The Road. The father and son live in the here and now with nothing but to get to tomorrow. The father wants to pass along the behaviors of survival before all else, with a steadfast focus on love for his son; the son wants to give his decency and humanity in the face of nuclear winter, dead humanity, cannibals on their trail, and other enumerated horrors.  The son is motivated by a bigger love that, as yet, isn’t as beaten down by life.

The Road 2

The Road focuses on survival strategies, cunning, and remembering loss. Lost empathy for the rest of humanity is the tug between father and son throughout the tale. The son survives his father at the end of the tale, yet ultimately doubts whether a larger morality, or God, exists. The message Cormac McCarthy leaves us is the thought that God is a highly personal concept that one experiences through heart and mind; for the unnamed son, he ends the journey at stories end bereft of place, time, people, community, and the tangible, day-to-day comfort of his father. The caregivers who will support this child, on the road and beyond the end of the tale, give the boy the wisdom of experiencing God through his memory of his father. After all, McCarthy says, how else do we experience God than through each other?

My rating for The Road by Cormac McCarthy is 3.5-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Sunday, April 9, 2017