The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx


General Fiction

The shipping news The Shipping NewsE. Annie Proulx; Touchstone 1993WorldCatIt is tempting to put down The Shipping News in the first few chapters. Don’t give in to that temptation.

Quoyle was abused as a boy by his father and brother. He grew into a big, stolid man with a huge chin and few looks. His jobs varied, always being short term, although he tended to work seasonally for a newspaper. He married a cheating woman who carried on the abuse. When she finally disappeared and left him with their daughters, Quoyle’s aunt came into his life.

The aunt and her dog join Quoyle when he is left with his daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, and unsure what to do. He had lived in New England all his life. She convinces him that the four of them should return to the old family home in Newfoundland. He is able to get a job reference for the newspaper through a friend of his. When they arrive at their new home on the Canadian coast, they find the house in disrepair. The aunt is pragmatic and direct. They will fix up the house and live there.

Newfoundland is nothing like Quoyle or his daughters has ever known. Although he hadn’t been a great newspaperman, he got a job at the Gammy Bird, the small local newspaper in the town. His main responsibility is to cover automobile crashes and the local shipping news. He hates the car crashes, but the owner insists there be a picture of a wreck on the cover of each issue. That’s what his subscribers want to read, he insists.

Due to the aunt’s persistence, the family settles in. Bunny is afraid of “the white dog” although Quoyle is never able to find it. The aunt has a business that she doesn’t discuss immediately. Quoyle is still pining for his wife even though she was despicable and degraded him constantly. But their lives start to change. It’s possible that Quoyle can become a man above it all rather than beaten down. Perhaps he can even find respect and love.

The Shipping News is a multi-layered novel that only reveals itself after it has been finished. It is about redemption. It is about self respect. It is about families and friends. It is about Newfoundland and its weather. E. Annie Proulx’s novel is surprising if you haven’t read it. It starts off very negatively. Quoyle isn’t a normal main protagonist or hero. Usually he would be one of the supporting characters.

Not so in Proulx’s The Shipping News. She uses Quoyle as a mirror for the reader – can the reader accept him or not? As the story gets further in, Quoyle has to shake off the victim mentality for his daughters. The aunt is the perfect character to support him in his unexpected growth.

Proulx has many wonderful characters in The Shipping News – some with larger roles and some with smaller. Quoyle made one friend in his adult life before his marriage and move north. Partridge moves to California and is the foil for Quoyle. Partridge’s fortunes keep going up, contrasting the problems Quoyle has with his family. A main character of the book is Newfoundland itself. This is the north Atlantic with short summers and long winters. The people who choose to live there have to be hardy or they will die. This “character” adds as much to the dimensions of the story as much as any human character.

The Shipping News is worth reading. Although the reading is easy, the story itself isn’t for the first third. Then Quoyle starts to grow into his own. The reader is able to join and learn from his life.

Notice:  Strong indecent language, Strong sexual content

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