Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Shipping News - Annie Proulx

The Shipping News
The Shipping News was a pick for my reading challenge for 2016, for the category of "A National Book Award winner."  I thought it was going to be a real slog for some reason; it wasn't, but at the same time it left me baffled as to what makes a book a bestseller and award winner and what doesn't.

The main character here is Quoyle, whose family hails from Newfoundland but who was born and raised in New York.  Following the end of a terrible marriage, Quoyle takes his two young daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, back to Newfoundland along with his aunt, who is a professional upholsterer.  The town they end up in Newfoundland seems like a terrible place, which was one of the baffling parts of the book.  Objectively, it's horrible: car crashes and sexual abuse abound, and the food is, by all accounts, horrible as well.  The cliffs are charming despite the bodies found at the bottom of them; the house on the rock is charming despite the menace of the moaning cables and house's own background.  But somehow Proulx makes the place, food and all, seem charming.  But this was a baffling book overall, so that probably suits it just fine.

What's so strange about the book is that it can't seem to decide what it wants to be.  A narrative of a family recovering from loss and finding a new way?  Maybe; that's what it tends towards most of the time.  But there are also paranormal and supernatural elements, and elements of mystery and horror, that are never fully explored and are just kind of floating around the background.  And in the end, there's a startling lack of resolution.  The story just sort of...ends.  Now, there wasn't a real running "plot" to wrap up, but some of the elements are left hanging in a strange way.  For example, what on earth is up with Bunny and her apparent premonitions?  And what happened to her fear of the white dog, that just vanished?  And where did the house go?

Overall, I thought this was an interesting book, with some beautiful writing at times and a wonderful sense of atmosphere.  But I'm not sure what propelled it into actual award territory.  It's very confusing to me.  I've read so many books that are absolutely stunning that can't shoulder their way into the awards, and yet ones that have a few compelling elements but are overall just okay somehow end up being bestsellers and lauded from all angles.  If someone can explain this to me, please do.  In the meantime, I'd be up to reading something else from Proulx, but I don't think she's someone who I will search out as being on an auto-buy list, or whose back catalog I'll ravage.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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