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

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At the Mountains of Madness with The King of Weird, H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft never amounted to much during his life spent mostly in Providence, Rhode Island. His tombstone reads “I am Providence,” as is readily apparent in the link I’ve attached with his name in the first sentence. The 2015 Philip Eil penned piece in The Atlantic, which aligned to the 125th anniversary of Lovecraft‘s birth, offers you insight into the down-and-out pulp fiction writer of “cosmic horror” that was never appreciated for his craft until after his death. Perhaps that is fair in the face of his reputed racism, though Lovecraft’s work has influenced a notable writer or two.

A recommendation of Lovecraft‘s book At the Mountains of Madness by Stephen King brought me to Lovecraft‘s writing about six weeks ago. I wasn’t quite two-thirds into the book when I discovered how effusive King was about Lovecraft. Consider a December 1995 piece written by Curt Wohleber for American Heritage. In the in-depth article provocatively titled “The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King,” the contemporary King shares the power of Lovecraft‘s influence.

“Now that time has given us some perspective on his work,” says Stephen King, “I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale. …. it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”

In The Atlantic piece, Eil tells us that

“Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Lovecraft faced such poverty and obscurity, when regions of Pluto are named for Lovecraftian monsters, the World Fantasy Award trophy bears his likeness, his work appears in the Library of America, the New York Review of Books calls him “The King of Weird,” and his face is printed on everything from beer cans to baby books to thong underwear. The author hasn’t just escaped anonymity; he’s reached the highest levels of critical and cultural success. His is perhaps the craziest literary afterlife this country has ever seen.”

A crazy, weird afterlife of a literary perspective following a poverty and obscurity partly derived from shying away from selling himself and his talents. Part of this issues arguably of the man himself.

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Lovecraft tends toward a professorial air in the writing that I have seen, which is specifically the novella At the Mountain of Madness as recommended by King. The book itself gets into other wordly beings far more intelligent then man coming to earth millions of years ago in order to enslave humanity. That notion gives way to main characters approaching the world with scientific or psychological curiosity. Many die while others losing control of their own actions in the present or future. The characters sense psychological well-being, or physical well-being, slipping away while finding themselves powerless to change course.

The main characters in At the Mountain of Madness were educated, rational, and without a spirituality beyond stepping back, recording their impressions scientifically without emotion, philosophy, or a religious fervor beyond their assumed objectivity, their assumed skill in discernment and interpretation and planning, and their overly proper infatuation with an articulation and air that seemed overly formal yet correct.

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For writing from the era between Edgar Allan Poe and the contemporary Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft gave America a quintessential voice for horror the ostensibly bridged the path between the two behemoths of the American horror style. I am hesitant to pick up another Lovecraft book currently, which might be more a statement of the writing style of the time Lovecraft lived in rather than Lovecraft‘s writing itself. I enjoyed reading At the Mountain of Madness, though I am not sure that I would recommend it. 2.5-stars out-of-five.

Matt – Sunday, April 16, 2017

Top 20 Movie “The Shining.”

Stephen King has a solid history with his writings making a transition from book to television mini-series, cinematic movie, and a little more tenuously stage production. The second movie to make a transition from novel to the big screen is the 1980 Stanley Kubrick produced, directed, and written (as a screenplay) movie The Shining. King’s novel was first published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1977, coming in at 659-pages (per the novel’s Wikipedia page).

The Shining was a fortuitous marriage of some of Hollywood’s more commercially successful stakeholders. There was the novelist King, the producer, screenwriter and director Kubrik, and the starring actor Jack Nicholson. These three brought something special and awesome together.

King gave us The Shawshank Redemption (1994)The Green Mile (1999)Stand By Me (1986), and Misery (1990)Kubrik gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)Spartacus (1960)A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)Nicholson gave us Chinatown (1974),  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)A Few Good Men (1992)As Good As It Gets (1997), and The Departed (2006).

Beyond bringing together the above three all-stars with their commercial success and influence, the story is a masterful examination of falling into madness in a place of isolation meant to force the confrontation of it. Jack Torrance (Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) give us a convincing glimpse into three characters with questionable grasps on reality. The narrative question that the viewer confronts with the Torrances is “are any of these three reliably sane?” At what point are we losing a grasp with reality? Is this person already descended into madness (mental health is a clear narrative device)?

The truth is that these questions elevate to the storytelling itself. Is the narrative itself reliable?  From the beginning scene where Jack Torrance is interviewing to be the caretaker for a snowbound hotel, Torrance is told that a former caretaker murdered his family and committed suicide. Something is clearly off, even then, when Jack brushes this off with the note that his wife enjoys ghost stories and horror films. Nothing in the Wendy’s character confirms this is true, though the frame of the story as a possible ghost story (it isn’t) and a definite horror film is set right from the start.

One might wonder where the notion of “shining” or “the shining” even comes into the storytelling of The Shining. That notion comes in with the character of Danny, who has the gift of “shining,” which is the psychic gift seeing things from the past and future while also reading minds. In this image here, you get an echo of the opening tale shared with Jack Torrance regarding the murders of the previous family, as we remember from that beginning tale that the first murderous caretaker took the lives of his two daughters.the-shining-2

That the notion of reliable characters is part of that scene comes up when Wendy Torrance doesn’t know to believe the “shining” of Danny, because it is completely reasonable to suspect that the Tony that Danny speaks of might simply be an imaginary friend. The growing drama that leads us to understand the meaning of Danny’s singing “redrum” is part of the genius of the larger tale of The Shining.

The content and tension of this movie, The Shining, is one that I recommend wholeheartedly to those with the temperament to enjoy. Psychological horror stories, as the Wikipedia page for the book tells us is true for the novel, are not for everyone. As such, Lynn of Matt Lynn Digital would neither watch nor enjoy this 18th ranked film on the Matt Lynn Digital blog. On the other hand, I do recommend that you watch.

Matt – Saturday, January 21, 2017