I once saw two doves in the middle of the street, one lay dead and the other stood by it’s side staring at it’s partner with what seemed to me to be a look of total despair; a feeling of overwhelming sadness came over me. This same feeling came back repeatedly as I read of the car accidents, sexual abuse, mental illness, cheating, loss, and death highlighted by Proulx in The Shipping News. Annie Proulx was awarded the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize in 1993, for this text; and, if this were not the case, I would not have continued reading it after the first 100 pages. The book ‘s contents, are conveyed by detailing depressing life of protagonist, Quoyle, a journalist who moves his family from New York to live in Newfoundland, in order to escape his past, only to find more pain awaiting him as he learns of the events surrounding the lives of those around him, both past and present. These occurrences, littered with love, loss, life, death, can only be met by a fighting spirit and hope that a deeper meaning for it all will eventually shine through.
Proulx’s deep focus on matters of life and death, is meant to portray the struggles people face in order to learn from mistakes or accidents,moving forward slowly, with a little less pain each time a tragedy occurs. Quoyle along with his two small daughters Bunny and Sunshine, and his other family members and friends, experience and learn to accept the deaths of loved ones as time passes. This highlights the importance of the passage of time to heal wounds; the author writes about the small details, of minutes and hours, that seem to crawl by, as humans wait for their hearts to heal. These parts of the text are uneventful, and only reminded me of my own despair in waiting for time to alter emotions and the past. Because of this, most of the book made it difficult to want to continue reading about bad things happening to good people. While the author may have intended the reader to notice more of the healing toward the end of the text, I still only saw the replication of sadness, a reminder of how long healing can take, if it ever fully occurs.
As the seasons change from spring to summer and then to brutal cold and winter, more people are lost. As more and more characters die, reminders of past pain are meant to lessen, and attempts to understand the meaning of life and death begin to fade. The author portrays a group of people who experience so many bad things, they eventually come to view the bad as a natural part of life. Thus, the blending of needs for comprehension and acceptance of both adults and children, the passage of time, and losses, finally come together in the end.
Similar to so many other novels, a person must be in a certain frame of mind in order to read and enjoy the subject matter in this text. I think this text is well written, because all humans must, at some point in their lives, go through the same processes as the characters, in that they attempt to understand these most difficult of questions and experiences: love, loss, life, death. For those readers who are not ready to accept that we all must experience this pain to live, the book is difficult to swallow. Still, there is something to be said about an author who is willing to tackle such difficult subjects, and this may be why the book was so highly praised.
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5