Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Shipping News (by E. Annie Proulx)

The League of Unreliable Narrators book club's latest selection. As per tradition, this is one Chris had read before and I had not. Special guest Wendy also joined us for this one!

The Shipping News is about a somewhat pathetic character named Quoyle who moves with his two daughters and aunt to Newfoundland after his horrible, evil wife (he does not notice she is horrible and evil, even though she literally sells their children to a child molester) dies. He begins working on a newspaper called The Gammy Bird that I really wish existed, particularly its restaurant reviews.  (Sample review: "The Fish Strip Basket was supposed to include Dinner Roll, but instead we got Slice of Bread. The fish Strips were very crispy and good. There is a choice of packet of lemon juice or Tartar Sauce. We both had the Tartar Sauce.")

This is a book with a unique writing style. The fragmentary sentences and shifting points of view kept me intrigued through. The voices, the setting, and the characters are all unique -- the names of the characters are uniformly wacky, which give the book a bit of a fabulist feel. The tone of it was difficult to pin down -- even with the wacky names and the amusing restaurant reviews, I found so much that was ominous and foreshadowy at the beginning, so many references to drowning, I definitely expected it to build to a dark climax. Which it kind of does. And then it doesn't.

Spoilers ahoy: The one character who does finally drown then magically comes back to life, and everyone has a happy ending -- even Dawn the newspaper girl, happy with her new life in St. John. I was let down by this, frankly -- I was... hoping for? ... a slightly melancholy ending, not a happily ever after style one. Not that I wasn't happy for Agnis and Mavis, because heck yes I was. But it felt a bit too nicely tied up in a bow. Or in this case, a fisherman's knot.

(Incidentally, we also worked on choosing Shipping News-esque names. My finalists are Hex Jetstream, Poplar Undertow, and Martha Sundial -- but I can't decide which I like best.) (Chris and Wendy, please post yours, I forgot to write them down.)

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Blogger Chris said...

For my Shipping News name, I went with "Ulf Hump," a slightly more terse choice in the vein of Gammy Bird managing editor Tert Card.

Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed it for the most part. I found in the re-reading that it didn't age as well as I'd hoped, but I don't regret selecting it.


11:11 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I read this years ago, and mostly what I remember is that everyone who saw me reading it said, oh my god, I hated that book so much, I couldn't get past the first chapter. I really loved it, though.

9:59 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

@Chris, that's right, Ulf Hump. It's perfect.

@Beth, I can see being put off by the eccentric writing style if it's not your bag. I really enjoyed it, though!

10:06 PM  

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