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Showing 1-10 of 25 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on October 22, 2002
It's rare that I would ever recommend a movie over a book, but the movie of the Shipping News is far superior in my mind because the reader isn't subjected to Proulx's short, choppy prose. The movie also sticks close enough to the story of the book (though it chops out some unimportant stuff for time) that if you just watch it and don't bother with the book you really aren't missing anything. It's not that the movie was perfect either, but it's not as bad as the book.
The problems with the book are numerous. First is Proulx's overall writing style. Bad. Real bad. Choppy sentences. No flow. Author Ignores Basic Rules of Grammar. Looking at excerpts of her other books I have to assume this writing style was intentional, maybe to make it seem like an article from the Gammy Bird, but that technique would have made more sense if the story were told in first-person with Quoyle as the narrator. After a while her style just grated on me and more importantly it kept me from really getting into the book. The story, even the characters were decent enough that I would have enjoyed the book had it been written in complete sentences.
I also never understood a few things. Why doesn't Quoyle have a first name? Everywhere he goes he just introduces himself as "Quoyle". Who does that? If I go somewhere and meet someone for the first time I say, "Hi, my name is BJ Fraser." I don't say, "Hi, I'm Fraser." It's revealed after a while that his first initials are R.G., so his name is probably Bob or something equally anonymous that there's no need to go to great lengths to keep it secret. Also, why does he always refer to Agnis Hamm as "the aunt"? Maybe it's because I have several aunts, but I say "Aunt Mary" or "Aunt Jane" not "the aunt". It could just be the way people from New York or Newfoundland talk, I wouldn't really know.
The area I think the movie really excels over the book is that the movie plays up the relationship between Quoyle and Wavey Prowse a little more. It never seemed to go anywhere in the book, nor did I really care because Wavey sounded like an unattractive bore anyway. Also, I liked the last sentence of narration in the movie where Quoyle says (though I can't quote it exactly): "if a drowning man can come back to life, <something about the house blowing away>, then I believe a broken man can be healed." That really sums up the whole point of the book and movie, a great way to end things. Better than the end line of the book, which I can't remember at all.
Chalk up "The Shipping News" as another Pulitzer dud but also another screen gem.
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on April 12, 2002
Clearly the Pulitzer Prize judges were either from a country that feared it was losing its tourist trade to Newfoundland or from a fishing industry that felt it was losing business to cod or they were all Alfred Hitchcock fans and loved that every description of food was so disgustingly unappealing (note: Hitchcock purposely made all food in his films look disturbing).
The book was bleak. That's all. The ending was predictable in character growth and the events and we were given a happy ending (and I like happy endings). However, there were 337 pages and only about 30 of them were given to actual plot. Several story lines which could have been interesting were left hanging to give us more room for empty and endless descriptions. If the author's purpose was to make sure that tourism never finds its way to Newfoundland, well, she succeeded with me.
As for character growth, apparently many are seeing something I didn't. Quoyle's growth was in spite of himself. He didn't embrace it, he resigned himself to it and finally "settled." There was no exploration of his inner feelings about the growth, we were presented with it at the end. The characters were as gloomy as everything else in the book.
As for the writing, yes, it was different. Daring? Well, not to me, but that's merely an opinion. It was certainly difficult enough for the editor to make several mistakes - mispellings and even a couple of words left out. I'm fighting the urge to go back over it with a red pen. I just keep thinking that though different is sometimes interesting, that doesn't necessarily mean it's good.
To be fair though, my taste runs more to story. If you love words and vivid description and need very little story, this would probably be a book for you. Though written more like screenplay descriptions, the author captured her mood and scene perfectly at every moment.
I must admit, though, I'm dying to see the movie now just to see what sort of story they saw in this book. Clearly I missed it.
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on February 28, 2002
The shipping news was a critically successful and popular book. Its main character is a man who in the early part of the book lacks self confidence and an ability to assert himself. He gets in a relationship which fails and his wife leaves him with the car of the children of the marriage. He moves to Newfoundland with an aunt and rebuilds his life.
The book is a very gentle one and it describes the hero's slow progress as he starts to find anchors in the world. A job which gives him some notion of self worth, a place to live and a strange environment to discover. The book is all pastel tones, meaningful looks and stilted conversations.
The basic problem is that the book is little more than a fable. The job that the hero gets is to write a small column on shipping movements in a town newspaper. Now the reality is that there would never be such a job. A town newspaper would employ one or two people to write all of its copy. They would have to answer the phones, arrange the printing and do a range of stories. There could never be a situation in which a paper would pay someone a wage to write a small information column.
The lack of the reality about the job is only one problem. The main character is a person who seems to be completely without passion or feeling except a slight feeling of awkwardness. Real people live in worlds of sharply defined feelings. They have feelings about their social status, they think about possessions, relationships but the main character is this book is largely a bundle of nothingness. The narrative is in fact more of a fairy story.
Never the less hundreds of thousands of people have loved the book and it has now been made into a film.
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on January 10, 2002
I have written a little, been rejected a lot. I approached this tale with expectation. Wanted to see what would win all those awards. Didn't see it.
I took a rejection notice and applied the criticisms to this work. Where was the drama? Couldn't find it. Where were the redeeming characters? Couldn't find them. What was the 'greater truth?' Wasn't revealed to me.
The author tried too hard to hit a homerun on every page. Over reaching at every turn, which became distracting.
The only character that I thought was interesting and worthwhile was the resurected Jack Buggit. The passages where he described his philosophy to the befuddled Quoyle were very entertaining. (The main reason for the second star.) This character had potential to be explored but wasn't. There was more pathos and depth in this man, who overcame adversity in a way that the bumbling Quoyle could never do.
In my life's experience, I've never seen anyone as insipid as Quoyle, start out as a complete nerd--never read anything, didn't know about anything--then be transformed by moving to a place where people didn't know he was a nerd. I didn't see how the man could magically elevate himself by pounding away at his manual typewriter on the kitchen table. Perhaps it's true what they say about the thousand monkeys, locked in a room, eventually typing 'War and Peace.' Now if one of the many ghosts had appeared and touched him on the shoulder... maybe.
I read the book in two sittings. I'm proud of that even though I could not find many of the words in my unabridged dictionary. I would look them up only if the context didn't give me a hint as to meaning, which was all too often.
I await the movie to see how Hollywood makes this into a story. Jay Leno or John Goodman should have gotten the lead, not Kevin Spacey. Guaranteed it won't be like the book.
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on December 20, 2001
The plot starts out wonderfully. A 30-something failure of a man (Quoyle) meets with an abrupt change in life (dead wife, dead parents, massive inflow of cash) and finds himself moving to his ancestral home in Newfoundland with his Aunt and two daughters. He goes on to rebuild his life amidst an isolated harbor town populated with individuals that help him become a man.
The story had much potential. It had a nice portrait of a 1990s era weak-mannered man bungling through life. It had the author's hint of individuality and interaction with nature creating a stronger and healthier character. Overall, the idea, thinking, and implied philosophy behind the book was excellent.
Too bad that it was all lost in a sea of REALLY bad writing. I had trouble figuring out if Ms. Proulx was trying to write really bad poetry or if she was trying to write a novel. The book is filled with bad simile and sentence fragments. None of the book's characters develop fully. The artificial pirate dialect given to the locals really detracts from the realism (Arrrr!).

And the names... what were you thinking Ms. Proulx? Here's a few examples- Wavey, Petal, Bunny, Sunshine, The Aunt. It sounds like the cast of a sleazy and low budget 1970s Porno Movie.
I'd give away the ending, but it is so bad that I don't want to spoil the complete let down. It's been done before... in a million TV soap operas.
Look elsewhere.
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on April 23, 1998
I read this book while visiting some relatives in Nova Scotia a few years back. Having read it already, my aunt gave it to me with the lukewarm encouragement, "It's won several awards, they say."
None of the characters engaged me in any way. Nothing compelling seemed to happen, perhaps the only exception being when Wavey revealed her late husband's true self. But by then it was too late in the book for me to really care. As a whole, it seemed to be the same sort of misadventures of the maladroit as _Beavis and Butthead_, a work that can only be enjoyed by standing steadfastly outside the narrative frame and smirking at the mishaps within.
After vacation, I got rid of the book by handing it off to one of my co-workers. His reaction to it was, "Great books don't come out every year. Sometimes not even good ones come out. But every year, they still have to pass out the awards."
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on March 15, 1999
I am probably being too generous in giving this book 2 stars, but I'm the one who forced myself to finish it, so I'll go ahead.
I found this story extremely tedious and a real chore to wade through. I also thought if I read one more reference to the sea or sky looking like milk, I'd be sick. Ms. Proulx's weak attempts at creativity through the use of fragmented sentences, and her vulgar use of language, only made matters worse. Her characters are underdeveloped, to say the least. I was three quarters of the way through the book before I finally realized that fat, pathetic Quoyle was supposed to be going through some sort of "humanizing" transformation.
I was disappointed with this story and relieved at the same time. Disappointed that a Pulitzer prize winning novel could be so lousy, and relieved when I finally came to the last page.
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on May 8, 2004
One of the more average Pulitzer prize winners I have encountered. What I feel the book lacked was depth of character, the characters are touched upon but not fully explored, even Quoyle I do not now feel that I know much about. The story wends and falls a few times, just as you think the author could be creating something dramatic it stops and turns another direction, much like the Northerly polar winds.
The main theme of the book, Quoyle's plight, I enjoyed. From hopelessly desperate and unrequited love and then to eventually find happiness again is well handled, the final paragraph excellent, but this theme too could have had more depth.
The book is different with a refreshing style of writing, for which I will long remember it, but lacks what I would expect from the company it keeps in the annals Pulitzer winners.
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on May 6, 1999
The Shipping News didn't leave me with a particularly strong feeling either way. Proulx has a unique writing style, which I didn't overly enjoy. The style was quite choppy, which made it hard to embrace the book. In turn, I didn't get involved with the characters, nor did I believe them. For instance, I still do not understand why Petal would ever have married Quoyle. Also, I felt that the description of Quoyle's life was overdone. It was too pathetic to believe. On the other hand, the book is full of subtle humor. The headlines Quoyle thinks to himself were my favorite part of the novel. They were the one aspect of the book that made me want to read on. Thought I wasn't enthralled by the novel, if you want to explore a unique writing style, The Shipping News may be for you
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on August 9, 1999
The Shipping News is well-written, and not unpleasant to read, but the problem is that the story is just so dreadfully boring. Of course, writing about very simple people living dull lives in a cold and underpopulated place doesn't help. How did this book win these two prestigious awards? You tell me. Yet more can be said, for this novel presents us with the underdog's version of the American Dream: "If you work hard, don't complain, hang on to your loved ones, and are prepared to go where opportunities take you, there's a place for you too." What do we see shining through? The values of the pioneers, of course, ie work ethic, perseverance, mobility, and family values. Is that enough to redeem the book from a one-star rating? Maybe, but not from a two-star one.
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