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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