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The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

1993, Scribner

Reasons to read this book: hope & love (don't expect romance), writing, and humor. For more details and to make up your own mind, keep reading.


What I remember most is the physically ugly main character named Quoyle who at first seems scary or stupid or both, but in reality is a loving human being who prioritizes family, friends, and also, his work. He has some growing to do, and the reader gets to watch part of his journey.


Set in a godforsaken coastal area of Newfoundland, the novel is pervaded by darkness. The word "dreary" appears in the first sentence, soon to be followed by a host of difficulties and death. But out of the darkness the story is built on, a timid light of love and hope ultimately shines.


The writing is superb (and surprisingly humorous), although at first I had my doubts. A few short chapters in, a verbless sentence almost made me quit: The aunt leaned on her elbow. Chin on the heel of her hand. 29 It sounds like an instruction for a play. Then I saw it, the chin on the heel of the hand came to life, as if the author were making little videos with her words. Others followed, like this one: The wind filled Quoyle's mouth, parted and snapped his hair. 160


I read The Shipping News via Yvonne. She remarked on its dismal atmosphere, comparing it to a scene from an Alice Munro story we were reading for bookclub. I hadn't felt the same, and was curious.


I recently read the book, and Yvonne and I talked about it by text.


KB: I really liked The Shipping News. Surprisingly, although I noticed the dreariness, I found it full of love.


Yvonne: What about the scene with the ashes?


KB: I may be too unfeeling. I vaguely remember ashes. Remind me.


Y: When Quoyle's aunt buries her brother's ashes. And shits on them.


KB: Okay, it's coming back.


Y: I am still thinking about it five years on!


KB: Not me, and I read it less than five months ago. Interesting.


Y: The novel is definitely glauque (sordid). I don't mean that negatively, I really liked it, but certain scenes haunted me.


KB: I assumed you didn't like it. So you did?


Y: Yes, but the atmosphere definitely troubled me. And it was written as if these sordid things that happened were no big deal.


KB: Did that bother you? Or strike you? The no-big-deal aspect?


Y: It had an influence but it was more that the writing style was raw and a bit shocking. A kind of frontier primitivism.


Y: By the way, Annie Proulx also wrote Brokeback Mountain.




Quotes from The Shipping News


Grief:

It takes a year, a full turn of the calendar, to get over losing somebody. 29

The inertia of grief rolled through him. 29


Boats:

You may think the equation is 'boat and water.' It's not. It's 'money and boat.' The water is not really necessary. That's why you see so many boats in the backyards. p 77


A pretty puzzle:

...four women in every man's heart: The Maid in the Meadow, the Demon Lover, the Stouthearted Woman, the Tall and Quiet Woman 171


Willpower:

...if they could start a glove factory with no leather or noboby that knew how to make 'em, I could start a newspaper. So I goes over to Canada Manpower and I says, "I want to start a newspaper. You fellows think you can help me out?" 67

And he started a newspaper.


Hope:

He felt light and hot...Thirty-six years old and this was the first time anybody ever said he'd done it right. 144

It's like you feel to yourself that's all you deserve. And the worse it gets the more it seems true, that you got it coming to you or it wouldn't be that way. 308


Work in the old days:

No, they didn't have any money, the sea was dangerous and men were lost, but it was a satisfying life in a way people today do not understand. There was a joinery of lives all worked together, smooth in places, or lumpy, but joined. The work and the living you did was the same things, not separated out like today. 169









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