Books I’ve Loved: The Shipping News

The Shipping News, written by E. Annie Proulx, came out in 1993. It won the Pulitzer prize, and the Natinoal Book Award, and they even made a movie out of it (which I never saw, because sometimes when you love a book SO much, you just can’t bear for the movie to ruin it, know what I mean?).

The Shipping News is a love story. A quiet one. Not a romance, but the story of a deep love born of tragedy, pain, and the loss, and then the rebirth, of hope. The main character is Quoyle, an ungainly, pathetic lump of a man who falls in love with and marries an awful, amoral woman named Petal. He has two children with her, and all three of them suffer immeasurably from her presence in their lives until she is (SPOILERS) killed in a car accident.

Quoyle has nowhere to go, and his life is collapsing around him. With no options, he accepts his aunt Agnis’s offer to come live in her rundown childhood home, in Newfoundland.

Quoyle moves into an impossibly bleak and hopeless landscape, and little by little begins to construct something of a life for himself and his daughters. What follows is a work of quiet, remarkable loveliness.

I read this book not long after it first came out. I was going through a personal tragedy of my own, and feeling emotionally flayed and incredibly fragile. The bleak landscape of Newfoundland becomes the perfect backdrop for this story of a man who at first inspires only pity and sadness, but slowly transforms himself through love and quiet courage.

This tale of hope and transcendent beauty was exactly what I needed at the time that I read it. I have rarely been left with such a strong, enduring impression after reading a book. I haven’t read many other books by Annie Proulx, but this one is certainly a masterpiece.


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