The Shipping News: A Novel
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Shipping News is a celebration of Annie Proulx’s genius for storytelling and her vigorous contribution to the art of the novel.
Quoyle, a third-rate newspaper hack, with a “head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair…features as bunched as kissed fingertips,” is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife meets her just deserts. An aunt convinces Quoyle and his two emotionally disturbed daughters to return with her to the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of their ancestral home in Newfoundland. Here, on desolate Quoyle’s Point, in a house empty except for a few mementos of the family’s unsavory past, the battered members of three generations try to cobble up new lives.
Newfoundland is a country of coast and cove where the mercury rarely rises above 70 degrees, the local culinary delicacy is cod cheeks, and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than on anything with wheels. In this harsh place of cruel storms, a collapsing fishery, and chronic unemployment, the aunt sets up as a yacht upholsterer in nearby Killick-Claw, and Quoyle finds a job reporting the shipping news for the local weekly, the Gammy Bird (a paper that specializes in sexual-abuse stories and grisly photos of car accidents).
As the long winter closes its jaws of ice, each of the Quoyles confronts private demons, reels from catastrophe to minor triumph—in the company of the obsequious Mavis Bangs; Diddy Shovel the strongman; drowned Herald Prowse; cane-twirling Beety; Nutbeem, who steals foreign news from the radio; a demented cousin the aunt refuses to recognize; the much-zippered Alvin Yark; silent Wavey; and old Billy Pretty, with his bag of secrets. By the time of the spring storms Quoyle has learned how to gut cod, to escape from a pickle jar, and to tie a true lover’s knot.
In this touching and atmospheric novel set among the fishermen of Newfoundland, Proulx tells the story of Quoyle. From all outward appearances, Quoyle has gone through his first 36 years on earth as a big schlump of a loser. He’s not attractive, he’s not brilliant or witty or talented, and he’s not the kind of person who typically assumes the central position in a novel. But Proulx creates a simple and compelling tale of Quoyle’s psychological and spiritual growth. Along the way, we get to look in on the maritime beauty of what is probably a disappearing way of life.
Fans of Lasse Hallström’s truffle, Chocolat, may enjoy the director’s subsequent novel adaptation, the emotionally charged Shipping News. The opening sequence introduces us to the bumbling Quoyle (Kevin Spacey), an ink setter at the Poughkeepsie News; his hedonistic wife Petal Bear (Cate Blanchett); and their daughter Bunny. But we hardly get to meet the characters, much less connect with them, in the fewer than eight minutes allotted for the scene. Before you know it, Petal is dead in a car wreck, Quoyle’s parents have committed suicide, and…