Annie Proulx was awarded the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News in 1993. In it Proulx chronicles the depressing life of protagonist, Quoyle, a journalist who moves his family to live in his native Newfoundland, only to be haunted by the events in his own life and the lives of those around him, both past and present. The author masterfully and disturbingly conveys experiences of despair; feelings of overwhelming sadness are transferred from her characters and their stories to the reader. The reader senses the weight of their pain, causing tension, dragging them further down. Still, their lives, littered with love, loss, secrets, life, death, are met with resilience and hope indicative of a greater human ability to move forward regardless of circumstance.
Proulx focuses on matters of life and death to portray that people face struggles in order to cope with less pain each time a tragedy occurs. She highlights the concept of time slowly passing for humans as they wait for their hearts to heal. In the narrative the reader sees the minds of the characters and action slow, as a reminder of the despair experienced in waiting for time to pass. Through Quoyle, his two daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, and his other family members and friends, the reader sees people who learn to accept death as part of life. The process of healing wounds from loss expands throughout the text so that the reader notices more of the healing toward the end; the characters grow stronger.
The subject matter in this book leads readers into uncomfortable and unsettling territory, which makes it more intelligent. The setting of the story in Newfoundland creates an extreme example the circle of life; as the seasons change from spring to summer and then to brutal cold and winter, more people are lost in storms, fishing accidents or from mental illness. In society, people often avoid discussing subjects that cause pain, fear, anger, or embarrassment. But, Proulx writes about the events that towns and families keep hidden. She not only makes the reader think about loss and secrets, she encourages the reader to consider the best ways to deal with them. She gives her characters and readers a two choices: one can wallow in self pity about the unfairness of life or one can accept life for what it is and remain positive. The reader sees that those who meet challenges, face things instead of hiding, and keep trying, also find happiness.
It is a rare gift for an author to draw the reader in so thoroughly and make him or her think. This writing leads the reader to go through the same processes as the characters, to experience love, loss, secrets, life, death in a profound way. There is something to be said about an author who is willing to tackle such difficult subjects, and this may be why the book is so highly praised.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5