The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (1993) 337 p.

Annie Proulx is these days probably best known for being the author of Brokeback Mountain, the short story which inspired the film, but her original famous work was The Shipping News, which won the Pulitzer in ’94. Heartbroken from the death of his wife and at a loss as to what to do with himself, protagonist Quoyle (I don’t think we ever learn his first name) relocates himself and his daughters to his family’s ancestral home in Newfoundland. Settling into a new job as a reporter for the local paper in the fictional village of Killick-Claw, he gradually grows to feel at peace on this harsh, wintry island.

The Shipping News is a bit of a weird novel. At first it feels deeply comic, casting Quoyle as a hapless and pathetic figure drifting through a series of dead-end jobs and marrying a psychopath. It becomes more serious as the action shifts to Newfoundland, but even there, the residents mostly feel like larger-than-life caricatures rather than realistic characters. Proulx’s writing style also grated on me; she has a habit of inconsistently dropping relative pronouns and conjunctions. There are some wonderfully rendered descriptions of Newfoundland, a place beautiful but deadly, but without a firmer sense of reality anchoring place to people, it never quite washed for me. The book was unsatisfying in a way I find hard to articulate; I didn’t dislike it, and indeed there are many great moments in it, and great examples of writing. But there was something naggingly wrong about it all the way through, something I couldn’t put my finger on. An odd one. Read it for yourself and see.

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