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The Shipping News Review

Published on February 27th, 2016 at 02:26 am

By Pilar Petropoulos-White

This story of heroic quest that is E. Annie Proulx’s Shipping News follows one man’s voyage toward self-discovery when he returns to his ancestral homeland of Newfoundland. Her prose style makes it difficult for the reader to really get into the work, but sticking with it rewards pure description of the desolate Newfoundland winter and a delightfully slow arrival of pivotal characters. A dark comedy of a contemporary North American family, The Shipping News paints a portrait of how to live without pain. This novel of social critique analyzes every character as representing the different types of irritating people and their places in society in order to better humanity.

Proulx’s mesmerizing, hypnotic narrative writing style is extremely distinctive and carries throughout the book. It can be enraging, but observational to a point that reflects short, delicious sentence fragments. Her analogies range from taxed to lucid in “eyes the color of plastic” (p. 2), “the sullen bay rubbed with thumbs of fog” (p. 79), and “parentheses around her mouth set like clamps” (p. 95). The context overrides the passive grammar which critics could pull apart. There is an omniscient point of view that hovers over the oral literature and text that most likely comes from Proulx’s extensive approach to research.

The realism of Quoyle’s juxtaposing hero-like social ineptness depicts the dynamic force of the story. Though the savior of himself and his family, Quoyle undergoes changes not so optimistic. His extreme loneliness presents an absence of suffering that resembles some state of pleasure. His transition from a pathetic man of low self-confidence described as “a big, damp loaf of a man” (p.58) to one with confidence takes shape during his physical movement from New York to Newfoundland. Quoyle gradually learns how to stand up for and become content with himself.

Proulx articulates women’s experience and authorizes that experience as feminist social critique with reference to Aunt Agnis Hamm. The author was interested in things that men did that women did not aptly do. The aunt serves as the catalyst when Quoyle is impaired by the deaths of his parents and wife. The two are quite nearly complete opposites as the aunt engages her self-confidence and ability to feel; Quoyle starts off numb. Her conscious approach to the pain in her life eventually rubs off on Quoyle who releases his submissiveness.

In this, we learn that lingering in other people’s sorrow takes us out of our own, leading us to be able to better our community. Proulx’s exploration of a type of happiness is based on the lack of suffering and not the existence of pleasure. Her narrative style of writing can be infuriating at times but also mesmerizing. The deliberate approach to pain and suffering will add to the betterment of our global community.

Proulx, E. Annie. The Shipping News. New York: Touchstone, 1994. Print.