Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Love and Lore in a Cold Place Bold Metaphors Highlight Novel

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Love and Lore in a Cold Place Bold Metaphors Highlight Novel

Article excerpt

THE SHIPPING NEWS By E. Annie Proulx 337 pages, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $12 pages.

E. ANNIE PROULX'S celebrated second novel is a most curious creation. "The Shipping News" is essentially language-driven; its endlessly inventive metaphors and unique descriptions can be dazzling, and they usually compensate for the minor inadequacies that occasionally plague the plot.

It begins simply enough: "Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns."

Quoyle, 36, is bumbling along as a barely competent newspaperman after proving equally unimpressive at a number of other occupations. Given his dismal upbringing in a profoundly dysfunctional household, Quoyle's firm grasp of mediocrity is a miracle in itself. His suffering at the hands of a sadistic father and hateful brother stemmed from his oversized and somewhat unfortunate appearance. Proulx is almost peerless when it comes to description, as her rendering of her humble hero demonstrates:

"A great damp loaf of a body. At six he weighed eighty pounds. At sixteen he was buried under a casement of flesh. Head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as bunched as kissed fingertips. Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face."

Perhaps needless to say, Quoyle isn't exactly a magnet for female attention. So when he's seduced by a local temptress named Petal, sex soon ripens into love. At least where Quoyle is concerned. Petal Bear hardly pauses to recite her wedding vows before dragging her hapless mate through a series of putdowns and infidelities. After his wife perishes in an explosive auto accident, the increasingly forlorn Quoyle is left with two young daughters and a generous helping of heartache.

Feeling meaningless and anchorless, Quoyle joins forces with Agnis Hamm, his eccentric aunt, and leaves Mockingburg, N.Y., for Newfoundland, his ancestral home. …

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