“The Shipping News” by E. Annie Proulx

This book has been on my shelf for a long time. My wife read it years ago and said I would like it, so I added it to my list. As many of you know, once a book is “added to the list,” it can be quite a while before you actually crack the cover.

My wife was right. I did like this book… a lot. The first thing that struck me was Proulx’s style of writing, particularly the way she uses sentence fragments to create stream of consciousness. Having struggled through, yet enjoyed, stream of consciousness novels by James Joyce and Thomas Wolfe, it was a pleasure to get that experience without having to tackle long, intricate, winding sentences. And honestly, fragments more closely resemble the way my consciousness flows. My awareness is comprised of pieces of thought, snapshots of reality, grouped together like a collage. This is how Proulx structured much of the book, like a collage.

There are many fascinating intricacies in the story itself, but I’ll only touch briefly on the main one: the image of knots. This is the primary motif in the story and it works well on so many levels. Obviously, a story set in a northern fishing town would draw on the imagery of knots, crucial in the daily lives of fishermen. Yet the knot becomes a metaphor that ties the whole story together. Individuals are tied to their pasts, tethered by their obsessions, entwined together, and ultimately bound to their destinies. Our lives and experiences are woven together like a fabric, and this story portrays that perfectly. One last word about knots; I loved that Proulx added a little magical binding in there, where the insane cousin used knots to bind a spell against Quoyle. For me, that reinforced the image of the knot as a universal archetype and a mystical symbol.

I would recommend this book to anyone. The story is interesting and reads well. It was never a chore to read. Even so, there is a lot of interesting symbolism and thought-provoking content here to stimulate deep, thoughtful readers. So whether you are looking for an enjoyable story to read while relaxing or if you are interested in something contemplative, this book will work. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

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One response to ““The Shipping News” by E. Annie Proulx

  1. Never read the book, but saw the movie. It was one of my favorites at the time and quite a surprise.