The Shipping News

May 25, 2014

Lots of emphasis in Chestertown this weekend on shipping news:  Chestertown Tea Party Festival, the town’s biggest party of the year.  Just happened to be reading a shipping book about shipping news.

1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award winning book, The Shipping News, is our neighbor’s all-time favorite book, so I had to read it, too.  Laura, our neighbor, told me it was “dense,” and she was right. Heard from some friends about the book and 3 out of 3 hated it, would never read it again.  (But one of the three did also mention that it is the all-time favorite book of her brother-in-law, too).  My opinion?  I loved the story, and thought E. Annie Proulx’s writing was brilliant.  I would definitely read it again, and really, I need to; there was so much in there.

Samples:

 “His boots rang on the naked stone.  Stumbled on juniper roots embedded in fissures, saw veins of quartz like congealed lightning…” p 208

“…the clock’s face peered out like a bride’s from a wreath of worked wildflowers.  The knobs of the kitchen dresser sported tassels like a stripper in a bawd house, the kettle handle knitted over in snake-ribs, the easy chairs wore archipelagoes of thread and twine flung over the reefs of arms and backs….” p 213

“‘Well, I wondered what happened to you,’ said Mavis Bangs, the part in her black hair glowing like a wire in the rhomboid of sunlight.  ….Anyway, noon I went up to the post office and got your mail.’  She pointed at the aunt’s table with her eyes.  Importantly.  She had jumped into the habit of doing small kindnesses for Agnis Hamm.  And would get the mail or pour a cup of tea unbidden.  Proffer things with invisible trumpets.” p 228

Below, one of my favorite parts, since I’m a sucker for good stuff happening to the underdog:

Jack Buggit was an unlikely looking newspaper editor…

‘Quoyle!’  The hand shot out and Quoyle shook it.  It was like clasping a leather pot holder….

I know what my readers wants and expects and I gives ’em that.  And what I say goes.  I don’t want to hear no journalism ideas from you and we’ll get along good.’

….’About time you got here….Jack’s on his way down.  he wants to see you.’….’Why?’ said Quoyle apprehensively.  ‘Because of the piece?’  ‘Yep.  He probably intends to tear your guts out for that…yacht piece,’ said Tert Card.  ‘He don’t like surprises….’ 

The roar of the truck engine, the door slam; Quoyle went sweaty and tense.  It’s only Jack Buggit, he thought.  Only terrible Jack Buggit with his bloody knout and hot irons.  Reporter Bludgeoned.  His sleeve caught on the bin of notes and papers on his desk; paper sprayed over the desk…

Jack Buggit strode in, ginger eyes jumped around the room, stopped on Quoyle.  He hooked his hand swiftly over his head as though catching a fly and disappeared behind the glass partition.  Quoyle followed. 

‘All right, then,’ said Buggit.  ‘This is what it is.  this little piece you’ve wrote and hung off the end of the shipping news–‘ 

‘I thought it’d perk the shipping news up a little, Mr. Buggit,’ said Quoyle.  ‘An unusual boat in the harbor and–‘ 

‘Jack,’ said Buggit. 

‘I don’t have to write another one.  I just thought–.’  Reporter Licks Editor’s Boot. 

‘You sound like you’re fishing with a holed net, shy most of your shingles standin’ there hemming and hawing away.’  Glared at Quoyle who slouched and put his hand over his chin. 

‘Got four phone calls last night about that…boat.  People enjoyed it.  Mrs. Buggit liked it…..So go ahead with it.  That’s the kind of stuff I want.  From now on I want you to write a column, see?  The Shipping News….’ 

Quoyle went back to his desk.  He felt light and hot.  …Quoyle rolled paper into the typewriter but didn’t type anything.  Thirty-six years old and this was the first time anybody ever said he’d done it right. 

Fog against the window like milk. 

pp 63, 68, 143-44.

 

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