THE SHIPPING NEWS by E. Annie Proulx


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Life was hard for Proulx's people in Heart Songs (1988) and Postcards (1991), and it's no easier for them in this dreary second novel, as they battle the elements (and their private demons) in Newfoundland. Front and center is Quoyle, an unprepossessing hulk with a "monstrous chin," who goes from a loveless childhood in upstate New York to a half-loveless marriage to Petal Bear, a sharp-tongued bimbo who gives him two daughters (Bunny and Sunshine) and six years of suffering that Quoyle (still hopelessly smitten) gladly absorbs, not knowing that life can offer anything else. Then Petal is killed in a car accident, and Quoyle's Aunt Agnis, who has all the gumption her lummox of a nephew lacks, moves the family to their ancestral home in Newfoundland to start a new life. It's not easy; their house, perched grimly on a rock, is uninhabitable in winter, "mean and hopeless" year-round. But Quoyle, a "third- rate newspaperman," is hired by the paper to cover car-wrecks and shipping news and is soon writing zippy columns, an improbable late-bloomer at 36; he also courts, ever so slowly, a widow called Wavey, who clings as foolishly to the sainted memory of her husband (a vicious tomcat) as Quoyle does to that of Petal. Proulx pumps up this low-key material with a splash of local color (old salts in the newsroom), a pinch of melodrama (headless corpse washes ashore), and a rattle of skeletons (Quoyle's father sexually abused sister Agnis). Proulx does okay by Newfoundland (though she won't help tourism any), but Quoyle, the poor turkey, is a fatal self- inflicted wound.
Pub Date: March 2nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-684-19337-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992


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