The Shipping News

( 99 )

Overview

At thirty-six, Quoyle, a third-rate newspaperman, is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife gets her just desserts. He retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters all play a part in Quoyle's struggle to reclaim his life. As three generations of his family cobble up new lives, Quoyle confronts his private demons—and the unpredictable forces of nature and society—and begins to see the ...
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Overview

At thirty-six, Quoyle, a third-rate newspaperman, is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife gets her just desserts. He retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters all play a part in Quoyle's struggle to reclaim his life. As three generations of his family cobble up new lives, Quoyle confronts his private demons—and the unpredictable forces of nature and society—and begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery.

A vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary American family, The Shipping News shows why Annie Proulx is recognized as one of the most gifted and original writers in America today.

Winner of the 1993 National Book Award and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Stephen Jones Chicago Tribune The Shipping News is that rare creation, a lyric page-turner.

Bruce Allen USA Today The writing is charged with sardonic wit — alive, funny, a little threatening; packed with brilliantly original images...and, now and then, a sentence that simply takes your breath away.

Roz Spafford San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle Annie Proulx's stunning, big-hearted The Shipping News thaws the frozen lives of its characters and warms readers.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Proulx has followed Postcards , her story of a family and their farm, with an extraordinary second novel of another family and the sea. The fulcrum is Quoyle, a patient, self-deprecating, oversized hack writer who, following the deaths of nasty parents and a succubus of a wife, moves with his two daughters and straight-thinking aunt back to the ancestral manse in Killick-Claw, a Newfoundland harbor town of no great distinction. There, Quoyle finds a job writing about car crashes and the shipping news for The Gammy Bird , a local paper kept afloat largely by reports of sexual abuse cases and comical typographical errors. Killick-Claw may not be perfect, but it is a stable enough community for Quoyle and Co. to recover from the terrors of their past lives. But the novel is much more than Quoyle's story: it is a moving evocation of a place and people buffeted by nature and change. Proulx routinely does without nouns and conjunctions--``Quoyle, grinning. Expected to hear they were having a kid. Already picked himself for godfather''--but her terse prose seems perfectly at home on the rocky Newfoundland coast. She is in her element both when creating haunting images (such as Quoyle's inbred, mad and mean forbears pulling their house across the ice after being ostracized by more God-fearing folk) and when lyrically rendering a routine of gray, cold days filled with cold cheeks, squidburgers, fried bologna and the sea. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Off the beaten track of contemporary American fiction in both style and setting, this remarkable second novel by the author of Postcards ( LJ 12/1/91) should capture the attention of readers and critics. Huge, homely Quoyle works off and on for a newspaper. His cheating wife Petal is killed in a car crash while abandoning him and their two preschool daughters. Wallowing in grief, Quoyle agrees to accompany his elderly aunt and resettle in a remote Newfoundland fishing village. Memorable characters — gay aunt Agnis, difficult daughter Bunny, new love interest Wavey, many colorful locals in their new hometown — combine with dark stories of the Quoyle family's past and the staccato, often subjectless or verbless sentences (bound to make English teachers cringe) to create a powerful whole. For most fiction collections.
— Ann H. Fisher, Radford Public Library, VA
Frances Woods
It is a testament to Proulx's unique storytelling skills that this tale of a miserable family opting to start a new life in a miserable Newfoundland fishing village has an enchanted, fairy-tale quality, despite its harrowing details of various abuses. It is also very funny. Big, big-hearted Quoyle, with his "great damp loaf of a body," is the unlikely protagonist who has never done anything right and who doesn't recognize love unless it brings pain and misery. Raging strumpet Petal Bear, Quoyle's beloved and oft-forgiven wife, is the fulcrum of his misery. When Petal's flame burns out shortly after selling their kids, Sunshine and Bunny, to a child pornographer, Quoyle is set in motion, if not exactly free just yet. Along with his elderly aunt, her toothless dog Warren, and his rescued offspring, he heads north for his godforsaken ancestral home to take a job on a nasty little newspaper that features car wrecks, sexual-abuse stories, and giant fake ads. Proulx creates an amazing world in Killick-Claw, Newfoundland — a cold, rocky place that nevertheless is populated by a fascinating variety of big-hearted, unlikely heroes who are revealed to have all manner of special talents. Quoyle and company, who have never belonged anywhere, gradually fit right in.
Douglas Glover
The Shipping News is alive in every sinse of the word...Proulx has George Eliot's gift of loving observation — her vision is wise and generous.
The Boston Globe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671510053
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/9/1994
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 186,896
  • Lexile: 730L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is. She lives in Wyoming.

Biography

Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx did not set out to be a writer. She studied history in school, acquiring both her bachelor's and her master's degrees and abandoning her doctorate only in the face of a pessimistic job market. Something of a free spirit, she married and divorced three times and ended up raising three sons and a daughter single-handedly. She settled in rural Vermont, living in a succession of small towns where she worked as a freelance journalist and spent her free time in the great outdoors, hunting, fishing, and canoeing.

Although she wrote prolifically, most of Proulx's early work was nonfiction. She penned articles on weather, farming, and construction, and contracted for a series of rural "how tos" for magazines like Yankee and Organic Gardening. She also founded the Vershire Behind the Times, a monthly newspaper filled with colorful features and vignettes of small-town Vermont life. All this left little time for fiction, but she averaged a couple of stories a year, nearly all of which were accepted for publication.

Prominent credits in two editions of Best American Short Stories led to the publication in 1988 of Heart Songs and Other Stories, a first collection of Proulx's short fiction. Set in blue-collar New England, these "perfectly pitched stories of mysterious revenges and satisfactions" (the Guardian) received rapturous reviews.

With the encouragement of her publisher, Proulx released her first novel in 1992. The story of a fractured New England farm family, Postcards went on to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. She scored an even greater success the following year when her darkly comic Newfoundland set piece The Shipping News scooped both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. One year before her 60th birthday, Proulx had become an authentic literary celebrity.

Since then, the author has alternated between short and long fiction, garnering numerous accolades and honors along the way. Giving the lie to the literary adage "write what you know," her curiosity has led her into interesting, unfamiliar territory: Before writing The Shipping News, she made more than seven extended trips to Newfoundland, immersing herself in the culture and speech of its inhabitants; similarly, she weaved staggering amounts of musical arcana into her 1996 novel Accordion Crimes. She is known for her keen powers of observation—passed on, she says, from her mother, an artist and avid naturalist—and for her painstaking research, a holdover from her student days.

In 1994, Proulx left Vermont for the wide open spaces of Wyoming—a move that inspired several memorable short stories, including the O. Henry Award winner "Brokeback Mountain." First published in The New Yorker and included in the 1999 collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories, this tale of a doomed love affair between two Wyoming cowboys captured the public imagination when it was turned into an Oscar-winning 2005 film by director Ang Lee.

Lionized by most critics, Proulx is, nevertheless, not without her detractors. Indeed, her terse prose, eccentric characters, startling descriptions, and stylistic idiosyncrasies (run-on sentences followed by sentence fragments) are not the literary purist's cup of tea. But few writers can match her brilliance at manipulating language, evoking place and landscape, or weaving together an utterly mesmerizing story with style and grace.

Good To Know

Proulx was the first woman to win the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Award.

Proulx fell in love with Newfoundland while she was conducting research for The Shipping News. She now spends part of each year in northern Newfoundland on a small cove adjacent to L'Anse aux Meadows..

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edna Annie Proulx (full name), E. Annie Proulx
    2. Hometown:
      LaBarge, Wyoming
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 22, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Norwich, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      Attended Colby College in the 1950s. B.A., University of Vermont, 1969; M.A., Sir George Williams University, 1973

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Quoyle
Quoyle: A coil of rope.
"A Flemish flake is a spiral coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary."
THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS
Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.
Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.
His jobs: distributor of vending machine candy, all-night clerk in a convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman. At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go.
A watery place. And Quoyle feared water, could not swim. Again and again the father had broken his clenched grip and thrown him into pools, brooks, lakes and surf. Quoyle knew the flavor of brack and waterweed.
From this youngest son's failure to dog-paddle the father saw other failures multiply like an explosion of virulent cells — failure to speak clearly; failure to sit up straight; failure to get up in the morning; failure in attitude; failure in ambition and ability; indeed, in everything. His own failure.
Quoyle shambled, a head taller than any child around him, was soft. He knew it. "Ah, you lout," said the father. But no pygmy himself. And brother Dick, the father's favorite, pretended to throw up when Quoyle came into a room, hissed "Lardass, Snotface, Ugly Pig, Warthog, Stupid, Stinkbomb, Fart-tub, Greasebag," pummeled and kicked until Quoyle curled, hands over head, sniveling, on the linoleum. All stemmed from Quoyle's chief failure, a failure of normal appearance.
A great damp loaf of a body. At six he weighed eighty pounds. At sixteen he was buried under a casement of flesh. Head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as bunched as kissed fingertips. Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face.
Some anomalous gene had fired up at the moment of his begetting as a single spark sometimes leaps from banked coals, had given him a giant's chin. As a child he invented stratagems to deflect stares; a smile, downcast gaze, the right hand darting up to cover the chin.
His earliest sense of self was as a distant figure: there in the foreground was his family; here, at the limit of the far view, was he. Until he was fourteen he cherished the idea that he had been given to the wrong family, that somewhere his real people, saddled with the changeling of the Quoyles, longed for him. Then, foraging in a box of excursion momentoes, he found photographs of his father beside brothers and sisters at a ship's rail. A girl, somewhat apart from the others, looked toward the sea, eyes squinted, as though she could see the port of destination a thousand miles south. Quoyle recognized himself in their hair, their legs and arms. That sly-looking lump in the shrunken sweater, hand at his crotch, his father. On the back, scribbled in blue pencil, "Leaving Home, 1946."
At the university he took courses he couldn't understand, humped back and forth without speaking to anyone, went home for weekends of excoriation. At last he dropped out of school and looked for a job, kept his hand over his chin.
Nothing was clear to lonesome Quoyle. His thoughts churned like the amorphous thing that ancient sailors, drifting into arctic half-light, called the Sea Lung; a heaving sludge of ice under fog where air blurred into water, where liquid was solid, where solids dissolved, where the sky froze and light and dark muddled.

He fell into newspapering by dawdling over greasy saucisson and a piece of bread. The bread was good, made without yeast, risen on its own fermenting flesh and baked in Partridge's outdoor oven. Partridge's yard smelled of burnt cornmeal, grass clippings, bread steam.
The saucisson, the bread, the wine, Partridge's talk. For these things he missed a chance at a job that might have put his mouth to bureaucracy's taut breast. His father, self-hauled to the pinnacle of produce manager for a supermarket chain, preached a sermon illustrated with his own history — "I had to wheel barrows of sand for the stonemason when I came here," And so forth. The father admired the mysteries of business — men signing papers shielded by their left arms, meetings behind opaque glass, locked briefcases.
But Partridge, dribbling oil, said, "Ah, fuck it." Sliced purple tomato. Changed the talk to descriptions of places he had been, Strabane, South Amboy, Clark Fork. In Clark Fork had played pool with a man with a deviated septum. Wearing kangaroo gloves. Quoyle in the Adirondack chair, listened, covered his hand with his chin. There was olive oil on his interview suit, a tomato seed on his diamond-patterned tie.

Quoyle and Partridge met at a laundromat in Mockingburg, New York. Quoyle was humped over the newspaper, circling help wanted ads while his Big Man shirts revolved. Partridge remarked that the job market was tight. Yes, said Quoyle, it was. Partridge floated an opinion on the drought, Quoyle nodded. Partridge moved the conversation to the closing of the sauerkraut factory. Quoyle fumbled his shirts from the dryer; they fell on the floor in a rain of hot coins and ballpoint pens. The shirts were streaked with ink.
"Ruined," said Quoyle.
"Naw," said Partridge. "Rub the ink with hot salt and talcum powder. Then wash them again, put a cup of bleach in."
Quoyle said he would try it. His voice wavered. Partridge was astonished to see the heavy man's colorless eyes enlarged with tears. For Quoyle was a failure at loneliness, yearned to be gregarious, to know his company was a pleasure to others.
The dryers groaned.
"Hey, come by some night," said Partridge, writing his slanting address and phone number on the back of a creased cash register receipt. He didn't have that many friends either.
The next evening Quoyle was there, gripping paper bags. The front of Partridge's house, the empty street drenched in amber light. A gilded hour. In the bags a packet of imported Swedish crackers, bottles of red, pink and white wine, foil-wrapped triangles of foreign cheeses. Some kind of hot, juggling music on the other side of Partridge's door that thrilled Quoyle.

They were friends for a while, Quoyle, Partridge and Mercalia. Their differences: Partridge black, small, a restless traveler across the slope of life, an all-night talker; Mercalia, second wife of Partridge and the color of a brown feather on dark water, a hot intelligence; Quoyle large, white, stumbling along, going nowhere.
Partridge saw beyond the present, got quick shots of coming events as though loose brain wires briefly connected. He had been born with a caul; at three, witnessed ball lightning bouncing down a fire escape; dreamed of cucumbers the night before his brother-in-law was stung by hornets. He was sure of his own good fortune. He could blow perfect smoke rings. Cedar waxwings always stopped in his yard on their migration flights.

Now, in the backyard, seeing Quoyle like a dog dressed in a man's suit for a comic photo, Partridge thought of something.
"Ed Punch, managing editor down at the paper where I work is looking for a cheap reporter. Summer's over and his college rats go back to their holes. The paper's junk, but maybe give it a few months, look around for something better. What the hell, maybe you'd like it, being a reporter."
Quoyle nodded, hand over chin, If Partridge suggested he leap from a bridge he would at least lean on the rail. The advice of a friend.
"Mercalia! I'm saving the heel for you, lovely girl. It's the best part. Come on out here."
Mercalia put the cap on her pen. Weary of prodigies who bit their hands and gyred around parlor chairs spouting impossible sums, dust rising from the oriental carpets beneath their stamping feet.

Ed Punch talked out of the middle of his mouth. While he talked he examined Quoyle, noticed the cheap tweed jacket the size of a horse blanket, fingernails that looked regularly held to a grindstone. He smelled submission in Quoyle, guessed he was butter of fair spreading consistency.
Quoyle's own eyes roved to a water-stained engraving on the wall. He saw a grainy face, eyes like glass eggs, a fringe of hairs rising from under the collar and cascading over its starched rim. Was it Punch's grandfather in the chipped frame? He wondered about ancestors.
"This is a family paper. We run upbeat stories with a community slant." The Mockingburg Record specialized in fawning anecdotes of local business people, profiles of folksy characters; this thin stuff padded with puzzles and contests, syndicated columns, features and cartoons. There was always a self-help quiz — "Are You a Breakfast Alcoholic?"
Punch sighed, feigned a weighty decision. "Put you on the municipal beat to help out Al Catalog. He'll break you in. Get your assignments from him."
The salary was pathetic, but Quoyle didn't know.

Al Catalog, face like a stubbled bun, slick mouth, ticked the back of his fingernail down the assignment list. His glance darted away from the back of Quoyle's chin, hammer on a nail.
"O.k., planning board meeting's a good one for you to start with. Down at the elemennary school. Whyn't you take that tonight? Sit in the little chairs. Write down everything you hear, type it up. Five hundred max. Take a recorder, you want. Show me the piece in the A.M. Lemme see it before you give it on to that black son of a bitch on the copy desk." Partridge was the black son of a bitch.
Quoyle at the back of the meeting, writing on his pad. Went home, typed and retyped all night at the kitchen table. In the morning, eyes circled by rings, nerved on coffee, he went to the newsroom. Waited for Al Catalog.
Ed Punch, always the first through the door, slid into his office like an eel into the rock. The A.M. parade started. Feature-page man swinging a bag of coconut doughnuts; tall Chinese woman with varnished hair; elderly circulation man with arms like hawsers; two women from layout; photo editor, yesterday's shirt all underarm stains. Quoyle at his desk pinching his chin, his head down, pretending to correct his article. It was eleven pages long.
At ten o'clock, Partridge. Red suspenders and a linen shirt. He nodded and patted his way across the newsroom, stuck his head in Punch's crevice, winked at Quoyle, settled into the copy desk slot in front of his terminal.
Partridge knew a thousand things, that wet ropes held greater weight, why a hard-boiled egg spun more readily than a raw. Eyes half closed, head tipped back in a light trance, he could cite baseball statistics as the ancients unreeled The Iliad. He reshaped banal prose, scraped the mold off Jimmy Breslin imitations. "Where are the reporters of yesteryear?" he muttered, "the nail-biting, acerbic, alcoholic nighthawk bastards who truly knew how to write?"
Quoyle brought over his copy. "Al isn't in yet," he said, squaring up the pages, "so I thought I'd give it to you."
His friend did not smile. Was on the job. Read for a few seconds, lifted his face to the fluorescent light. "Edna was in she'd shred this. Al saw it he'd tell Punch to get rid of you. You got to rewrite this. Here, sit down. Show you what's wrong. They say reporters can be made out of anything. You'll be a test case."
It was what Quoyle had expected.
"Your lead," said Partridge. "Christ!" He read aloud in a high-pitched singsong.
Last night the Pine Eye Planning Commission voted by a large margin to revise earlier recommendations for amendments to the municipal zoning code that would increase the minimum plot size of residential properties in all but downtown areas to seven acres.
"It's like reading cement. Too long. Way, way, way too long. Confused. No human interest. No quotes. Stale." His pencil roved among Quoyle's sentences, stirring and shifting. "Short words. Short sentences. Break it up. Look at this, look at this. Here's your angle down here. That's news. Move it up."
He wrenched the words around, Quoyle leaned close, stared, fidgeted, understood nothing.
"O.k., try this.
Pine Eye Planning Commission member Janice Foxley resigned during an angry late-night Tuesday meeting. "I'm not going to sit here and watch the poor people of this town get sold down the river," Foxley said.
A few minutes before Foxley's resignation the commission approved a new zoning law by a vote of 9 to 1. The new law limits minimum residential property sizes to seven acres.
"Not very snappy, no style, and still too long," said Partridge, "but going in the right direction. Get the idea? Get the sense of what's news? What you want in the lead? Here, see what you can do. Put some spin on it."
Partridge's fire never brought him to a boil. After six months of copy desk fixes Quoyle didn't recognize news, had no aptitude for detail. He was afraid of all but twelve or fifteen verbs. Had a fatal flair for the false passive. "Governor Murchie was handed a bouquet by first grader Kimberley Plud," he wrote and Edna, the crusty rewrite woman, stood up and bellowed at Quoyle. "You lobotomized moron. How the hell can you hand a governor?" Quoyle another sample of the semi-illiterates who practiced journalism nowadays. Line them up against the wall!
Quoyle sat through meetings scribbling on pads. It seemed he was part of something. Edna's roars, Partridge's picking did not hurt him. He had come up under the savage brother, the father's relentless criticism. Thrilled at the sight of his byline. Irregular hours encouraged him to imagine that he was master of his own time. Home after midnight from a debate on the wording of a minor municipal bylaw on bottle recycling, he felt he was a pin in the hinge of power. Saw the commonplaces of life as newspaper headlines. Man Walks Across Parking Lot at Moderate Pace. Women Talk of Rain. Phone Rings in Empty Room.
Partridge labored to improve him. "What don't happen is also news, Quoyle."
"I see." Pretending to understand. Hands in pockets.
"This story on the County Mutual Aid Transportation meeting? A month ago they were ready to start van service in four towns if Bugle Hollow came in. You say here that they met last night, then, way down at the end you mention sort of as a minor detail, that Bugle Hollow decided not to join. You know how many old people, no cars, people can't afford a car or a second car, commuters, been waiting for that goddamn van to pull up? Now it's not going to happen. News, Quoyle, news. Better get your mojo working." A minute later added in a different voice that he was doing Greek-style marinated fish and red peppers on skewers Friday night and did Quoyle want to come over?
He did, but wondered what a mojo actually was.

In late spring Ed Punch called Quoyle into his office, said he was fired. He looked out of his ruined face past Quoyle's ear. "It's more of a layoff. If it picks up later on..."
Quoyle got a part-time job driving a cab.
Partridge knew why. Talked Quoyle into putting on a huge apron, gave him a spoon and a jar. "His kids home from college. They got your job. Nothing to cry over. That's right, spread that mustard on the meat, let it work in."
In August, snipping dill into a Russian beef stew with pickles, Partridge said, "Punch wants you back. Says you're interested, come in Monday morning."
Punch played reluctant. Made a show of taking Quoyle back as a special favor. Temporary.
The truth was Punch had noticed that Quoyle, who spoke little himself, inspired talkers. His only skill in the game of life. His attentive posture, his flattering nods urged waterfalls of opinion, reminiscence, recollection, theorizing, guesstimating, exposition, synopsis and explication, juiced the life stories out of strangers.
And so it went. Fired, car wash attendant, rehired.
Fired, cabdriver, rehired.
Back and forth he went, down and around the county, listening to the wrangles of sewer boards, road commissions, pounding out stories of bridge repair budgets. The small decisions of local authority seemed to him the deep workings of life. In a profession that tutored its practitioners in the baseness of human nature, that revealed the corroded metal of civilization, Quoyle constructed a personal illusion of orderly progress. In atmospheres of disintegration and smoking jealousy he imagined rational compromise.

Quoyle and Partridge ate poached trout and garlic shrimps. Mercalia not there. Quoyle tossed the fennel salad. Was leaning over to pick up a fallen shrimp when Partridge rang his knife on the wine bottle.
"Announcement. About Mercalia and me."
Quoyle, grinning. Expected to hear they were having a kid. Already picked himself for godfather.
"Moving to California. Be leaving Friday night."
"What?" said Quoyle.
"Why we're going, the raw materials," Partridge said. "Wine, ripe tomatillos, alligator pears." He poured fumé blanc, then told Quoyle that really it was for love, not vegetables.
"Everything that counts is for love, Quoyle. It's the engine of life."
Mercalia had thrown down her thesis, he said, had gone blue-collar. Travel, cowboy boots, money, the gasp of air brakes, four speakers in the cab and the Uptown String Quartet on the tape deck. Enrolled in long-distance truck driving school. Graduated summa cum laude. The Overland Express in Sausalito hired her.
"She is the first black woman truck driver in America," said Partridge, winking tears. "We already got an apartment. Third one she looked at." It had, he said, a kitchen with French doors, heavenly bamboo shading the courtyard. Herb garden the size of a prayer rug. In which he would kneel.
"She got the New Orleans run. And I am going out there. Going to make smoked duck sandwiches, cold chicken breast with tarragon, her to take on the road, not go in the diners. I don't want Mercalia in those truck places. Going to grow the tarragon. I can pick up a job. Never enough copy editors to go around. Get a job anywhere."
Quoyle tried to say congratulations, ended up shaking and shaking Partridge's hand, couldn't let go.
"Look, come out and visit us," said Partridge. "Stay in touch." And still they clasped hands, pumping the air as if drawing deep water from a well.

Quoyle, stuck in bedraggled Mockingburg. A place in its third death. Stumbled in two hundred years from forests and woodland tribes, to farms, to a working-class city of machine tool and tire factories. A long recession emptied the downtown, killed the malls. Factories for sale. Slum streets, youths with guns in their pockets, political word-rattle of some litany, sore mouths and broken ideas. Who knew where the people went? Probably California.
Quoyle bought groceries at the A&B Grocery; got his gas at the D&G Convenience; took the car to the R&R Garage when it needed gas or new belts. He wrote his pieces, lived in his rented trailer watching television. Sometimes he dreamed of love. Why not? A free country. When Ed Punch fired him, he went on binges of cherry ice cream, canned ravioli.
He abstracted his life from the times. He believed he was a newspaper reporter, yet read no paper except The Mockingburg Record, and so managed to ignore terrorism, climatological change, collapsing governments, chemical spills, plagues, recession and failing banks, floating debris, the disintegrating ozone layer. Volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes, religious frauds, defective vehicles and scientific charlatans, mass murderers and serial killers, tidal waves of cancer, AIDS, deforestation and exploding aircraft were as remote to him as braid catches, canions and rosette-embroidered garters. Scientific journals spewed reports of mutant viruses, of machines pumping life through the near-dead, of the discovery that the galaxies were streaming apocalyptically toward an invisible Great Attractor like flies into a vacuum cleaner nozzle. That was the stuff of others' lives. He was waiting for his to begin.
He got in the habit of walking around the trailer and asking aloud, "Who knows?" He said, "Who knows?" For no one knew. He meant, anything could happen.
A spinning coin, still balanced on its rim, may fall in either direction.
Copyright © 1993 by E. Annie Proulx

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Quoyle

Quoyle: A coil of rope.

"A Flemish flake is a spiral coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary."

THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS

Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.

His jobs: distributor of vending machine candy, all-night clerk in a convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman. At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go.

A watery place. And Quoyle feared water, could not swim. Again and again the father had broken his clenched grip and thrown him into pools, brooks, lakes and surf. Quoyle knew the flavor of brack and waterweed.

From this youngest son's failure to dog-paddle the father saw other failures multiply like an explosion of virulent cells -- failure to speak clearly; failure to sit up straight; failure to get up in the morning; failure in attitude; failure in ambition and ability; indeed, in everything. His own failure.

Quoyle shambled, a head taller than any child around him, was soft. He knew it. "Ah, you lout," said the father. But no pygmy himself. And brother Dick, the father's favorite, pretended to throw up when Quoyle came into a room, hissed "Lardass, Snotface, Ugly Pig, Warthog, Stupid, Stinkbomb, Fart-tub, Greasebag," pummeled and kicked until Quoyle curled, hands over head, sniveling, on the linoleum. All stemmed from Quoyle's chief failure, a failure of normal appearance.

A great damp loaf of a body. At six he weighed eighty pounds. At sixteen he was buried under a casement of flesh. Head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as bunched as kissed fingertips. Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face.

Some anomalous gene had fired up at the moment of his begetting as a single spark sometimes leaps from banked coals, had given him a giant's chin. As a child he invented stratagems to deflect stares; a smile, downcast gaze, the right hand darting up to cover the chin.

His earliest sense of self was as a distant figure: there in the foreground was his family; here, at the limit of the far view, was he. Until he was fourteen he cherished the idea that he had been given to the wrong family, that somewhere his real people, saddled with the changeling of the Quoyles, longed for him. Then, foraging in a box of excursion momentoes, he found photographs of his father beside brothers and sisters at a ship's rail. A girl, somewhat apart from the others, looked toward the sea, eyes squinted, as though she could see the port of destination a thousand miles south. Quoyle recognized himself in their hair, their legs and arms. That sly-looking lump in the shrunken sweater, hand at his crotch, his father. On the back, scribbled in blue pencil, "Leaving Home, 1946."

At the university he took courses he couldn't understand, humped back and forth without speaking to anyone, went home for weekends of excoriation. At last he dropped out of school and looked for a job, kept his hand over his chin.

Nothing was clear to lonesome Quoyle. His thoughts churned like the amorphous thing that ancient sailors, drifting into arctic half-light, called the Sea Lung; a heaving sludge of ice under fog where air blurred into water, where liquid was solid, where solids dissolved, where the sky froze and light and dark muddled.


He fell into newspapering by dawdling over greasy saucisson and a piece of bread. The bread was good, made without yeast, risen on its own fermenting flesh and baked in Partridge's outdoor oven. Partridge's yard smelled of burnt cornmeal, grass clippings, bread steam.

The saucisson, the bread, the wine, Partridge's talk. For these things he missed a chance at a job that might have put his mouth to bureaucracy's taut breast. His father, self-hauled to the pinnacle of produce manager for a supermarket chain, preached a sermon illustrated with his own history -- "I had to wheel barrows of sand for the stonemason when I came here," And so forth. The father admired the mysteries of business -- men signing papers shielded by their left arms, meetings behind opaque glass, locked briefcases.

But Partridge, dribbling oil, said, "Ah, fuck it." Sliced purple tomato. Changed the talk to descriptions of places he had been, Strabane, South Amboy, Clark Fork. In Clark Fork had played pool with a man with a deviated septum. Wearing kangaroo gloves. Quoyle in the Adirondack chair, listened, covered his hand with his chin. There was olive oil on his interview suit, a tomato seed on his diamond-patterned tie.


Quoyle and Partridge met at a laundromat in Mockingburg, New York. Quoyle was humped over the newspaper, circling help wanted ads while his Big Man shirts revolved. Partridge remarked that the job market was tight. Yes, said Quoyle, it was. Partridge floated an opinion on the drought, Quoyle nodded. Partridge moved the conversation to the closing of the sauerkraut factory. Quoyle fumbled his shirts from the dryer; they fell on the floor in a rain of hot coins and ballpoint pens. The shirts were streaked with ink.

"Ruined," said Quoyle.

"Naw," said Partridge. "Rub the ink with hot salt and talcum powder. Then wash them again, put a cup of bleach in."

Quoyle said he would try it. His voice wavered. Partridge was astonished to see the heavy man's colorless eyes enlarged with tears. For Quoyle was a failure at loneliness, yearned to be gregarious, to know his company was a pleasure to others.

The dryers groaned.

"Hey, come by some night," said Partridge, writing his slanting address and phone number on the back of a creased cash register receipt. He didn't have that many friends either.

The next evening Quoyle was there, gripping paper bags. The front of Partridge's house, the empty street drenched in amber light. A gilded hour. In the bags a packet of imported Swedish crackers, bottles of red, pink and white wine, foil-wrapped triangles of foreign cheeses. Some kind of hot, juggling music on the other side of Partridge's door that thrilled Quoyle.


They were friends for a while, Quoyle, Partridge and Mercalia. Their differences: Partridge black, small, a restless traveler across the slope of life, an all-night talker; Mercalia, second wife of Partridge and the color of a brown feather on dark water, a hot intelligence; Quoyle large, white, stumbling along, going nowhere.

Partridge saw beyond the present, got quick shots of coming events as though loose brain wires briefly connected. He had been born with a caul; at three, witnessed ball lightning bouncing down a fire escape; dreamed of cucumbers the night before his brother-in-law was stung by hornets. He was sure of his own good fortune. He could blow perfect smoke rings. Cedar waxwings always stopped in his yard on their migration flights.


Now, in the backyard, seeing Quoyle like a dog dressed in a man's suit for a comic photo, Partridge thought of something.

"Ed Punch, managing editor down at the paper where I work is looking for a cheap reporter. Summer's over and his college rats go back to their holes. The paper's junk, but maybe give it a few months, look around for something better. What the hell, maybe you'd like it, being a reporter."

Quoyle nodded, hand over chin, If Partridge suggested he leap from a bridge he would at least lean on the rail. The advice of a friend.

"Mercalia! I'm saving the heel for you, lovely girl. It's the best part. Come on out here."

Mercalia put the cap on her pen. Weary of prodigies who bit their hands and gyred around parlor chairs spouting impossible sums, dust rising from the oriental carpets beneath their stamping feet.


Ed Punch talked out of the middle of his mouth. While he talked he examined Quoyle, noticed the cheap tweed jacket the size of a horse blanket, fingernails that looked regularly held to a grindstone. He smelled submission in Quoyle, guessed he was butter of fair spreading consistency.

Quoyle's own eyes roved to a water-stained engraving on the wall. He saw a grainy face, eyes like glass eggs, a fringe of hairs rising from under the collar and cascading over its starched rim. Was it Punch's grandfather in the chipped frame? He wondered about ancestors.

"This is a family paper. We run upbeat stories with a community slant." The Mockingburg Record specialized in fawning anecdotes of local business people, profiles of folksy characters; this thin stuff padded with puzzles and contests, syndicated columns, features and cartoons. There was always a self-help quiz -- "Are You a Breakfast Alcoholic?"

Punch sighed, feigned a weighty decision. "Put you on the municipal beat to help out Al Catalog. He'll break you in. Get your assignments from him."

The salary was pathetic, but Quoyle didn't know.


Al Catalog, face like a stubbled bun, slick mouth, ticked the back of his fingernail down the assignment list. His glance darted away from the back of Quoyle's chin, hammer on a nail.

"O.k., planning board meeting's a good one for you to start with. Down at the elemennary school. Whyn't you take that tonight? Sit in the little chairs. Write down everything you hear, type it up. Five hundred max. Take a recorder, you want. Show me the piece in the A.M. Lemme see it before you give it on to that black son of a bitch on the copy desk." Partridge was the black son of a bitch.

Quoyle at the back of the meeting, writing on his pad. Went home, typed and retyped all night at the kitchen table. In the morning, eyes circled by rings, nerved on coffee, he went to the newsroom. Waited for Al Catalog.

Ed Punch, always the first through the door, slid into his office like an eel into the rock. The A.M. parade started. Feature-page man swinging a bag of coconut doughnuts; tall Chinese woman with varnished hair; elderly circulation man with arms like hawsers; two women from layout; photo editor, yesterday's shirt all underarm stains. Quoyle at his desk pinching his chin, his head down, pretending to correct his article. It was eleven pages long.

At ten o'clock, Partridge. Red suspenders and a linen shirt. He nodded and patted his way across the newsroom, stuck his head in Punch's crevice, winked at Quoyle, settled into the copy desk slot in front of his terminal.

Partridge knew a thousand things, that wet ropes held greater weight, why a hard-boiled egg spun more readily than a raw. Eyes half closed, head tipped back in a light trance, he could cite baseball statistics as the ancients unreeled The Iliad. He reshaped banal prose, scraped the mold off Jimmy Breslin imitations. "Where are the reporters of yesteryear?" he muttered, "the nail-biting, acerbic, alcoholic nighthawk bastards who truly knew how to write?"

Quoyle brought over his copy. "Al isn't in yet," he said, squaring up the pages, "so I thought I'd give it to you."

His friend did not smile. Was on the job. Read for a few seconds, lifted his face to the fluorescent light. "Edna was in she'd shred this. Al saw it he'd tell Punch to get rid of you. You got to rewrite this. Here, sit down. Show you what's wrong. They say reporters can be made out of anything. You'll be a test case."

It was what Quoyle had expected.

"Your lead," said Partridge. "Christ!" He read aloud in a high-pitched singsong.

Last night the Pine Eye Planning Commission voted by a large margin to revise earlier recommendations for amendments to the municipal zoning code that would increase the minimum plot size of residential properties in all but downtown areas to seven acres.

"It's like reading cement. Too long. Way, way, way too long. Confused. No human interest. No quotes. Stale." His pencil roved among Quoyle's sentences, stirring and shifting. "Short words. Short sentences. Break it up. Look at this, look at this. Here's your angle down here. That's news. Move it up."

He wrenched the words around, Quoyle leaned close, stared, fidgeted, understood nothing.

"O.k., try this.

Pine Eye Planning Commission member Janice Foxley resigned during an angry late-night Tuesday meeting. "I'm not going to sit here and watch the poor people of this town get sold down the river," Foxley said.

A few minutes before Foxley's resignation the commission approved a new zoning law by a vote of 9 to 1. The new law limits minimum residential property sizes to seven acres.

"Not very snappy, no style, and still too long," said Partridge, "but going in the right direction. Get the idea? Get the sense of what's news? What you want in the lead? Here, see what you can do. Put some spin on it."

Partridge's fire never brought him to a boil. After six months of copy desk fixes Quoyle didn't recognize news, had no aptitude for detail. He was afraid of all but twelve or fifteen verbs. Had a fatal flair for the false passive. "Governor Murchie was handed a bouquet by first grader Kimberley Plud," he wrote and Edna, the crusty rewrite woman, stood up and bellowed at Quoyle. "You lobotomized moron. How the hell can you hand a governor?" Quoyle another sample of the semi-illiterates who practiced journalism nowadays. Line them up against the wall!

Quoyle sat through meetings scribbling on pads. It seemed he was part of something. Edna's roars, Partridge's picking did not hurt him. He had come up under the savage brother, the father's relentless criticism. Thrilled at the sight of his byline. Irregular hours encouraged him to imagine that he was master of his own time. Home after midnight from a debate on the wording of a minor municipal bylaw on bottle recycling, he felt he was a pin in the hinge of power. Saw the commonplaces of life as newspaper headlines. Man Walks Across Parking Lot at Moderate Pace. Women Talk of Rain. Phone Rings in Empty Room.

Partridge labored to improve him. "What don't happen is also news, Quoyle."

"I see." Pretending to understand. Hands in pockets.

"This story on the County Mutual Aid Transportation meeting? A month ago they were ready to start van service in four towns if Bugle Hollow came in. You say here that they met last night, then, way down at the end you mention sort of as a minor detail, that Bugle Hollow decided not to join. You know how many old people, no cars, people can't afford a car or a second car, commuters, been waiting for that goddamn van to pull up? Now it's not going to happen. News, Quoyle, news. Better get your mojo working." A minute later added in a different voice that he was doing Greek-style marinated fish and red peppers on skewers Friday night and did Quoyle want to come over?

He did, but wondered what a mojo actually was.


In late spring Ed Punch called Quoyle into his office, said he was fired. He looked out of his ruined face past Quoyle's ear. "It's more of a layoff. If it picks up later on..."

Quoyle got a part-time job driving a cab.

Partridge knew why. Talked Quoyle into putting on a huge apron, gave him a spoon and a jar. "His kids home from college. They got your job. Nothing to cry over. That's right, spread that mustard on the meat, let it work in."

In August, snipping dill into a Russian beef stew with pickles, Partridge said, "Punch wants you back. Says you're interested, come in Monday morning."

Punch played reluctant. Made a show of taking Quoyle back as a special favor. Temporary.

The truth was Punch had noticed that Quoyle, who spoke little himself, inspired talkers. His only skill in the game of life. His attentive posture, his flattering nods urged waterfalls of opinion, reminiscence, recollection, theorizing, guesstimating, exposition, synopsis and explication, juiced the life stories out of strangers.

And so it went. Fired, car wash attendant, rehired.

Fired, cabdriver, rehired.

Back and forth he went, down and around the county, listening to the wrangles of sewer boards, road commissions, pounding out stories of bridge repair budgets. The small decisions of local authority seemed to him the deep workings of life. In a profession that tutored its practitioners in the baseness of human nature, that revealed the corroded metal of civilization, Quoyle constructed a personal illusion of orderly progress. In atmospheres of disintegration and smoking jealousy he imagined rational compromise.


Quoyle and Partridge ate poached trout and garlic shrimps. Mercalia not there. Quoyle tossed the fennel salad. Was leaning over to pick up a fallen shrimp when Partridge rang his knife on the wine bottle.

"Announcement. About Mercalia and me."

Quoyle, grinning. Expected to hear they were having a kid. Already picked himself for godfather.

"Moving to California. Be leaving Friday night."

"What?" said Quoyle.

"Why we're going, the raw materials," Partridge said. "Wine, ripe tomatillos, alligator pears." He poured fumé blanc, then told Quoyle that really it was for love, not vegetables.

"Everything that counts is for love, Quoyle. It's the engine of life."

Mercalia had thrown down her thesis, he said, had gone blue-collar. Travel, cowboy boots, money, the gasp of air brakes, four speakers in the cab and the Uptown String Quartet on the tape deck. Enrolled in long-distance truck driving school. Graduated summa cum laude. The Overland Express in Sausalito hired her.

"She is the first black woman truck driver in America," said Partridge, winking tears. "We already got an apartment. Third one she looked at." It had, he said, a kitchen with French doors, heavenly bamboo shading the courtyard. Herb garden the size of a prayer rug. In which he would kneel.

"She got the New Orleans run. And I am going out there. Going to make smoked duck sandwiches, cold chicken breast with tarragon, her to take on the road, not go in the diners. I don't want Mercalia in those truck places. Going to grow the tarragon. I can pick up a job. Never enough copy editors to go around. Get a job anywhere."

Quoyle tried to say congratulations, ended up shaking and shaking Partridge's hand, couldn't let go.

"Look, come out and visit us," said Partridge. "Stay in touch." And still they clasped hands, pumping the air as if drawing deep water from a well.


Quoyle, stuck in bedraggled Mockingburg. A place in its third death. Stumbled in two hundred years from forests and woodland tribes, to farms, to a working-class city of machine tool and tire factories. A long recession emptied the downtown, killed the malls. Factories for sale. Slum streets, youths with guns in their pockets, political word-rattle of some litany, sore mouths and broken ideas. Who knew where the people went? Probably California.

Quoyle bought groceries at the A&B Grocery; got his gas at the D&G Convenience; took the car to the R&R Garage when it needed gas or new belts. He wrote his pieces, lived in his rented trailer watching television. Sometimes he dreamed of love. Why not? A free country. When Ed Punch fired him, he went on binges of cherry ice cream, canned ravioli.

He abstracted his life from the times. He believed he was a newspaper reporter, yet read no paper except The Mockingburg Record, and so managed to ignore terrorism, climatological change, collapsing governments, chemical spills, plagues, recession and failing banks, floating debris, the disintegrating ozone layer. Volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes, religious frauds, defective vehicles and scientific charlatans, mass murderers and serial killers, tidal waves of cancer, AIDS, deforestation and exploding aircraft were as remote to him as braid catches, canions and rosette-embroidered garters. Scientific journals spewed reports of mutant viruses, of machines pumping life through the near-dead, of the discovery that the galaxies were streaming apocalyptically toward an invisible Great Attractor like flies into a vacuum cleaner nozzle. That was the stuff of others' lives. He was waiting for his to begin.

He got in the habit of walking around the trailer and asking aloud, "Who knows?" He said, "Who knows?" For no one knew. He meant, anything could happen.

A spinning coin, still balanced on its rim, may fall in either direction.

Copyright © 1993 by E. Annie Proulx

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. Proulx describes Quoyle as "a great damp loaf of a body." What kind of man is Quoyle? How does Proulx's sublime, comic style make you feel about him?
  2. When Quoyle writes for the Mockingburg Record he never seems to understand the dynamics of journalism, yet in writing "The Shipping News" he transforms The Gammy Bird and eventually becomes managing editor of the paper. Discuss some of the other changes Quoyle experiences from the beginning of the novel to the end.
  3. As Quoyle arrives in Newfoundland, he hears much of his family's past. In fact, there is an old relative, "some kind of fork kin," still alive in Newfoundland. Why does Quoyle avoid Nolan — seem angry at the old man from the start? Is the reason as simple as Quoyle denying where he came from, especially after learning the details of his father's relationship with the aunt?
  4. Proulx tells us the aunt is a lesbian, yet never makes a specific issue out of the aunt's sexual orientation. Does this fact add dimension to the story for you? Does it add to the aunt's character? We, as readers, assume that characters are heterosexual without needing to hear specifically about their sexual life. Does the matter-of-course way Proulx treats the aunt's sexuality help make the reader a less judgmental critic?
  5. Discuss Quoyle's relationship with Petal Bear. Can you justify his feelings for her? Even after her death, she continues to have a strong hold on him, and her memory threatens to squelch the potential of his feeling for Wavey Prowse. Is this because Quoyle doesn't understand love without pain? Both Quoyle and Wavey haveexperienced abusive relationships previously. How do they treat each other?
  6. Newfoundland is more than the setting for this story, it is a dreary yet engaging character onto itself. Does the cold weather and the rough life add to your enjoyment of the book?
  7. Do you think the chapter headings from The Ashley Book of Knots, The Mariner's Dictionary, and Quipus and Witches' Knots add to the atmosphere of the book? Did their humor illustrate some of Proulx's points, or did they simplify some of her issues? Notice especially the headings for chapters 2, 4, 28, 32, 33, and 34.

Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story ?Brokeback Mountain,? which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is. She lives in Wyoming.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. Proulx describes Quoyle as "a great damp loaf of a body." What kind of man is Quoyle? How does Proulx's sublime, comic style make you feel about him?
  2. When Quoyle writes for the Mockingburg Record he never seems to understand the dynamics of journalism, yet in writing "The Shipping News" he transforms The Gammy Bird and eventually becomes managing editor of the paper. Discuss some of the other changes Quoyle experiences from the beginning of the novel to the end.
  3. As Quoyle arrives in Newfoundland, he hears much of his family's past. In fact, there is an old relative, "some kind of fork kin," still alive in Newfoundland. Why does Quoyle avoid Nolan — seem angry at the old man from the start? Is the reason as simple as Quoyle denying where he came from, especially after learning the details of his father's relationship with the aunt?
  4. Proulx tells us the aunt is a lesbian, yet never makes a specific issue out of the aunt's sexual orientation. Does this fact add dimension to the story for you? Does it add to the aunt's character? We, as readers, assume that characters are heterosexual without needing to hear specifically about their sexual life. Does the matter-of-course way Proulx treats the aunt's sexuality help make the reader a less judgmental critic?
  5. Discuss Quoyle's relationship with Petal Bear. Can you justify his feelings for her? Even after her death, she continues to have a strong hold on him, and her memory threatens to squelch the potential of his feeling for Wavey Prowse. Is this because Quoyle doesn't understand love without pain? Both Quoyle and Wavey have experienced abusive relationships previously. How do they treat each other?
  6. Newfoundland is more than the setting for this story, it is a dreary yet engaging character onto itself. Does the cold weather and the rough life add to your enjoyment of the book?
  7. Do you think the chapter headings from The Ashley Book of Knots, The Mariner's Dictionary, and Quipus and Witches' Knots add to the atmosphere of the book? Did their humor illustrate some of Proulx's points, or did they simplify some of her issues? Notice especially the headings for chapters 2, 4, 28, 32, 33, and 34.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 99 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(36)

4 Star

(26)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(10)

1 Star

(15)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 99 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2011

    A Literate Person

    To criticize the writing in this excellent novel is to showcase an ignorance of the reality of cadenced and often clipped thoughts each of possess, especially at our more vulnerable moments.

    This perfectly and artistically crafted novel is full of nuanced description, allegorical characters, and a poetic rhythm that makes for a totally unique read.

    Brilliant.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 22, 2010

    Glad I read it

    This is the story of Quoyle.. who is always the foil.. he was treated badly growing up, was severely emotionally abused throughout his marriage to a whorish nymphomaniac, and repeatedly got fired from his dead end job. So when his aunt suggests they move to Newfoundaland he picks up his children .. Bunny & Sunshine (love their names).. and moves.

    In Newfoundland he is re-created. He becomes successful at his job. He is respected by others. The town has it's own quirkiness so he & the family fit in well.

    I liked the story a lot. To me it really reflects how our roots affect us in ways we don't even realize. I think it's really cool when a character discovers things about themselves through digging into their ancestry. The writing style is quick and easy to read. The dialogue is engaging as the town people speak with their unique accent. I enjoyed reading this story of self-discovery.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2011

    Real Readers Relish It

    I can't imagine anyone not placing this book at the top of their Must Read list. The characters are real - not grand in stature - but so like the rest of us - not pretty, struggling, abandoned, but filled with a great desire to find a life. As a former newspaper woman, I especially like the way our hero narrows everything down to alliterative headlines. How could you not howl when the entire family is confined to a single motel room and the dog is farting up a storm in its sleep: Farts Fell Family of Four. You've got to love it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2008

    Insanely Good

    Definitely deserving of it's Pulitzer. I read a lot and normally know where a story is going and why, but this is so artfully complex and surprising, without being contrived. So well done!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2008

    best book I've read in years!

    Yes, it is complex, and yes, she does change the rules of grammar, but all to a purpose. Quoyle is symbolic of the aimless, empty lives so many of us live these days. By pure grace is he saved.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 11, 2012

    This book depressed me at first, then grew on me, and then haunt

    This book depressed me at first, then grew on me, and then haunted me after I finished it. Quoyle became real to me, a regular guy capable of love. I was rooting for him. I am still rooting for him all these years later.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2007

    Best I've Read In Years!

    Proulx's prose is as cutting and cool as the Newfoundland coast she writes about. The characters are so real, it's as if you could reach out and touch them. Haunting, and truly magical, a book about hope and the things that keep us going.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2002

    Proulx won an award for this?!

    This has to be one of the worst books I have ever read. The writing was choppy and jumpy and what little character development there was didn't matter anyway because the characters weren't even believable. I only got to page 90 before I had to quit reading it and I usually never quit reading books, even when they're bad. This book was a major disappointment.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2002

    Exhausting

    I really disliked this book. It's as though the author deliberately created a pretentious style of writing so that no one would notice how shallow the characters are. And if you're going to name every character with a noun (Al Catalog, Tate Card, Petal Bear), there should be some discernable meaning to those choices. I am an avid reader, and this is only the second book I have EVER quit reading before finishing it (the other was the uncut version of Heinlein's 'Stranger in a Strange Land'). I felt no sympathy for the characters, and found the plot unengaging. Sorry.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2012

    Perfect

    Always be my favorie book

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 1, 2011

    Stopped Reading It

    I didn't like this book I actually stopped reading it, which is not something I normally do. Even if it's a book I don't really care for I still finish it. Not this book. I am so surprised that it won a Pulitzer Prize.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very nice read

    Proulx presents an interesting tale weaving together maritime lingo, knots, and know-how, with a bit of humor and the seldom shared realities of human life. I recommend the book as a fairly light read with some depth and interesting nuances.

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    Loved it!

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted August 22, 2011

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    Couldn't get through first 50 pages...

    Just not my cup of tea. Wanted to like it as all my friends rave about it. Sorry.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 21, 2010

    If I had to choose between reading this book again and hanging myself...

    I'd hang myself. I could feel no real connection with any of the characters, and if there was any humor in the writing, it was lost on me. I could not stand the sentence fragments. I really wanted to read this because it was highly recommended by a relative, but I won't be taking her suggestions again. The ocean was way over-described, and the dialogue between the newsmen was void of any meaning or humor whatsoever. Save your $ and read something else (by a different author) that's not a chore to plod through.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    thank goodness that's over...

    It has been a long long time since I have been so happy to finally turn the last page of this book. Reading it was like walking through a quagmire. It was like swimming through molasses. It was like what I'm sure Wesley and Buttercup felt when they were in the lightning sand in "The Princess Bride". I'm sure you get the picture.

    Yes, I know it's a Pulitzer Prize winner. It's a good thing I wasn't on the panel that decided that honor. The writing style was so tough to get into. Fragmented sentences made the book so choppy. Boring way to write. Lazy. And hurts readers' eyes. (Yes, I also know I use them, too, but this is casual writing, not a novel...) The characters just would not shut up, either. It seemed as though each chapter had Billy Pretty or Nutbeem or somebody going off on some lecture about something. Who cares?! Shut up! There were times I felt that the writer was so into thinking that she was good that she distracted herself from the story. Even her picture on the back of the jacket showed her with a smug smile on her face.

    The story itself was ok; nothing mind-bendingly amazing. Man quits job after two-timing wife dies and moves to ancestral land of Newfoundland. Finds love and lives happily ever after. There, now you don't have to read it. I even included the fragmented sentences for you. If the story had been written by someone else, or if Ms. Proulx had a different writing style, then maybe it could have been good.

    If you're suffering from insomnia or you want to take a nap or you just feel like reading a snoozer, definitely pick up this book. Maybe the movie's better...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    maybe a little bit of happiness...

    The Shipping News takes place on the unyielding yet beautiful Newfoundland coast. It is a story of the land, the sea and ultimately the heart. It is the story of Quoyle. Him and his two young daughters flee from the states to their ancestral home in Newfoundland. Quoyle lands a job at the local paper writing about car accidents and the shipping news. It doesn't matter that Quoyle's wife recently died in a car accident or that Quoyle knows nothing about boats or shipping. This book follows Quoyle and his struggle to find his place in the world and maybe a little bit of happiness. The Shipping News is full of quirky characters. The writing is delightfully original. Proulx is clearly an author worth checking out.<BR/><BR/>*The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1994

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2007

    Give the book justice!

    Much enjoyment comes out of reading such a complex book. Proulx has proven that rules of grammar can be broken. This novel isn¿t just for strong readers, but also for those wanting a challenge. Patience, though, is defiantly needed when reading this book and readers should not expect to complete this book quickly. I also urge readers not to give up on the book, despite the tiresome start, advising them to see it through, giving the book justice. I made the easy mistake of judging the book too early on, heavily disliking the structure and storyline. The further I read though, the more I began to enjoy the book, leaving with a satisfied feeling at the completion of the novel.

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