Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

I've always been intrigued to read this book due to its Pulitzer Prize status. Having seen the movie way back when, I knew it would be an interesting story, so I finally decided to pick it up.

The Shipping News tells the strange story of Quoyle, a rather simple minded man from Brooklyn who's cruel (and clearly sociopathic) wife dies in a car accident leaving him with two daughters. His Aunt Agnes is visiting him at the time of the tragedy to collect his recently departed father's ashes and take them with her to be scattered on the family property in Newfoundland where he was born. Agnes convinces Quoyle to come along with her as nothing is left for him in New York, so he packs up and leaves. The family goes to their family's ancient house that has sat empty for 40 years on an uninhabited point of the area. They fix it up, repairing the decrepit old house to live in. Quoyle gets a job as a reporter doing the "shipping news", which is logging in what boats are in port and when they leave for the locals. He learns about all the secrets of the old town and the families that have lived in it for generations, including the truth about his own ancestors (they were known for deliberately causing shipwrecks so they could pillage the wreckage). His ancestors were actually driven away from their previous island, and dragged their house across the ice to the point where it stands when Quoyle arrives. He meets another single parent, Wavy, who has a mentally handicapped son that his daughter befriends. Mostly the story is just showing the different way of life for the Newfoundlanders and how they cope, their relationships with the land, the sea, and each other.

I enjoyed this book, but honestly not as much as I thought I would. I've always thought the story was interesting, but it really wasn't elaborated on much and the few climaxes are pretty tame. Mostly this is just a story of life in a small town and all the private drama that goes along with it, it just happens to be set in a remote area of the globe that not many people ever experience which keeps things interesting. The book is beautifully written, so I can certainly see how it achieved its Pulitzer status. The descriptions are really beautiful and almost lyrical at times. The story ends up showing how much Quoyle grows and changes from his new life, and he is an oddly endearing character. It was a quick read, and I recommend it is you want an interesting story to escape for a while. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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