Title: The Shipping News
Author: Annie Proulx
Publication: Scribner 1993
Rating: 3.5 stars
I recently finished reading The Shipping News (1993)by Annie Proulx, which I bought at Goodwill for $.99. The reason I picked it out from very neat but highly unorganized (by any sensical system) shelves is because I read a collection of her short stories for American Literature in college.
Some of you are aware of the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain with Jake and Heath (two of my favorites). Anyway, the movie was a colossalfailure, but it is based on a truly wonderful short story by Annie Proulx, which (I believe) is the last story in her collection entitled Close Range. For my relatives living in Wyoming, I don’t suggest reading these stories unless you are prepared to be severely depressed.
Anyway, back to The Shipping News. In true Proulx form, this novel is mostly set in the extremely isolated and frigid Canadian province of Newfoundland. (Speaking of Canada, last night I watched the South Park episode on the Canadian Strike–showing just how world-revered Canadians are–and they briefly made fun of Family Guy. It was funny. The end.) The novel is about this guy named Quoyle. On top of his wretched name, poor thing, he’s abnormally tall, overweight, and not too pleasant to look at. He has the misfortune of falling deeply in love with and marrying a loose lady who doesn’t give a (insert foul language here) about him or their two children. Thankfully, she dies in agruesome way–sorry, to divulge that. All in all, it’s about how Quoyle tries to find independence from the haunting memory of his wife, a job he likes and can hold onto, friends, reciprocal love, and a new life for his two little girls. Of all places, why he picks Newfoundland beats me.
The epigraphs are usually excerpts from The Ashley Book of Knots. The first chapter begins by defining the word “quoyle” as “a coil of rope.” This clearly symbolizes Quoyle’s complex life that he attempts to uncoil throughout the novel. Proulx goes on to quote The Ashley Book, which says this coil “may be walked on if necessary.” This is Quoyle in a nutshell: complexly tangled in every aspect of life and also a doormat.
The Shipping News is darkly humorous, witty, and lyrical (but I found the plot to be lacking a bit). The ending is somewhat uplifting, which is not necessarily true of Close Range (I’m not sure if that’s a good comparison though, because Close Range is a collection of short stories). The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 and the National Book Award in 1993. It also apparently won the Irish Time International Fiction Prize in 1993, but that’s not nearly as important. I have never even heard of that prize. WIKI could have just made it up. So, the world and I say it’s good, and you should read it. It was a good way to spend $.99.