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E. Annie Proulx: The Shipping News

This novel was Proulx’ breakthrough work. It won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the 1993 National Book Award for Fiction and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. It is the story of Quoyle,”born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.” Quoyle, more by accident than design, becomes a newspaperman but not a very good one. He meets and marries Petal Bear and they have two daughters. But, while Quoyle remains stubbornly loyal, Petal Bear does not. She is always going off with some man. Eventually, she is killed in a car crash, after having sold the two daughters to a man who made kiddie porn films. The police rescue the daughters before anything happens and Quoyle sets off with them to the land of his ancestors, Newfoundland, at the instigation of his aunt Agnis. There, they move into the family home, which is almost uninhabitable. Much of the novel is concerned with their struggles to make a go of it and make a go of it they do. Quoyle gets a job with the local newspaper, writing the shipping news (and also news of car wrecks, of which there are many) and starts a sort of relationship with the strange Wavey. What makes this book so worth reading is the colourful, though somewhat depressing portrait of a small Newfoundland town which has little going for it but where the inhabitants struggle along, sometime with humour, sometime without. Quoyle, of course, survives; more than that, he changes from the ugly duckling to the swan. Good for him but it is the town of Killick-Claw that is the real hero of this book.

Publishing history

First published 1993 by Charles Scribner’s Sons