The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx

The Shipping NewsThe Shipping News by Annie Proulx
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mired in the throes of grief after his despicable wife dies unexpectedly, Quoyle moves his damaged family to his ancestral home in Newfoundland. He manages to get a job at one of the local newspapers reporting on two subjects: car crashes and the shipping news. Whence the title. Driving around the rock he acquaints himself with the locals and the scenery, both of which are larger than life. To this point Quoyle has existed as a put-upon, fearful lump of a person and yet surrounded by these strange people and awesome weather events we finally begin to see him confront his personal demons and come into his own as a human being. It’s actually kind of inspiring. The changes arise because, for the first time in his life, he isn’t surrounded by people who treat him like dirt. There’s a lot to be said for extricating yourself from toxic relationships.
Proulx’s book really shines when you can immerse yourself in the prose for hours. During Quoyle’s first kick at the can as a newspaperman, one of his co-workers tries to explain to him how to write good copy. Short sentences. Short words. Snappy. Stylish. Proulx must have written The Shipping News with those instructions taped to the wall in front of her. Blunt sentences. Snappy dialogue. Unique descriptions. Unlike a newspaper, you may want a dictionary to read this book. It’s chock full of uncommon words. Ruvid. Pellucid. Caliginous. Endless lists of events and lists of nouns speckle the book. Reams of stories, some true and some certainly not. Some comical and some not and some outright horrifying. There’s drownings, suicides, murders and deaths. Domestic violence, several types of child abuse, rape, drunkenness, etc etc etc. It would probably be faster to list the things you won’t need a content warning for. I did appreciate Proulx’s minimal details and matter of fact tone when relating the difficult portions of the story, it definitely made them much easier to get through. But still, if any of the above is something you are sensitive to know that parts of this book may be very challenging. But then there’s Proulx’s prose. It’s staggeringly good. She represents the Newf accent so well I can’t believe she didn’t grow up there. Every oceanic ripple and breeze is photographically depicted in two words or less. Brilliant sentences, like “By January it had always been winter,” (284). “Two cribs jammed close like bird cages,” (15). The more you read the more her writing sinks in to your system. After a couple of hours you may find yourself thinking like Proulx writes. Although this novel won a Pulitzer, so maybe that’s not so bad.

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