Friday, February 5, 2016

7. The Shipping News

When I said that you'd be getting a new post every day until next Tuesday, I wasn't kidding. I have two books in the "read" column, a weekly update ready for Sunday, and a couple more books I'm nearing the end of. So the blog should be active, for lack of a better word, for the next several days.

I'm working hard to catch up to my reading schedule. The books are still getting finished on time, but the goal is to only need to read 80 pages a day. Right now, I'm reading at a much higher daily rate, which, of course, is fine...but it's taking over my life a little bit more than I'd like it to. Is that important for you to know? Not really, but it might give you a better sense of what my process is. The blog posts aren't really the hard part of Project 84...it's the reading that gets me behind.

And it doesn't help when the books are tough to get through...which brings me through my latest contribution to the Project 84 anthology. Book 7 is...


Shipping News
The Shipping News
By Annie Proulx

Oh, where to start. This was a tough book to get through...

It's a Pulitzer Prize winner! So, I think part of me expected that to mean I would fall in love with this book quickly, and have no problem getting to the end. What it actually meant was that I found the prose unnecessarily complicated, and much of the imagery and artistry of the writing seemed to go right over my head.

The plot of this novel really wasn't the issue. The plot is pretty compelling: it centers on an American journalist named Quoyle (last name, but we never learn his first). Within the first 40 pages, Quoyle's parents commit a joint suicide, and his awful, adulterous wife dies in a car wreck while trying to sell his two daughters to what we assume is a pedophile.

Yes, you heard me. That happens in the first 40 pages.

After that, Quoyle, his daughters, and his aunt move to the family home in Newfoundland, where Quoyle finds work at a local paper, writing about the "shipping news". The town is full of fascinating, robust characters...like Jack Buggit, the owner of the paper, who spends all his time fishing. Or Nutbeem, who writes about foreign news...and sexual abuse stories...for the paper.

The story is compelling, the characters are round and unique, and there is nothing I didn't love about this plot.

No, my problem is centered on one specific issue...the writing.

I admit, I can be a bit hypercritical of writing style, especially considering my own often contains many of the things I rail against in others. But this book won a Pulitzer Prize, that cannot be stated enough, and I found the writing almost unreadable.

It's pretty clear to me what Annie Proulx was trying to do. She was adopting a "style". The sentences are choppy and jarring. Some sentences are missing subjects, others objects, others verbs...quite a bit of the reading process is tied up in trying to figure out to what exactly she was referring.

I have no inherent issue with stylistic writing, but this should be the writing process: decide the story you want to tell, decide your genre (maybe, this isn't even necessary), and write. The style comes from who you are, from how you write. The style shouldn't be disingenuous, it shouldn't be invented...it should come from who the author actually is. Another options would be if it's intentional...if the style is meant to bring out something in the story...choppy sentences in a story about a choppy sea, for example...(not the case here, for the record).

Maybe I'm wrong, Maybe Annie Proulx is, in her soul, someone who hates full sentences, and this is how she naturally writes. Maybe her style was intentional, and it just went over my head (this isn't a joke...in fact, there's a good chance this is true ;) ). But none of that is how it came across to me. It came across like Proulx was trying to be clever, like she was trying to do affect a particular, unique style, rather than let the style reveal itself. I didn't respond to it. And, more importantly, it made the book touch to read.

Now the tough part...would I recommend this book? Ultimately, it was a tough read for me, and I would think that would be an across the board issue. If you're willing to give it a couple hundred pages and really become invested in the characters, then I would give it a shot. Otherwise, I think you're fine skipping this one.

***
7 books down! Four 1001 Books to Read Before You Die books, and three other books. Not bad for February 5th!

I really hope you guys are enjoying the blog so far this year. I've been wrapped up in it much more than in the past, and I'm proud of how the blog is coming together. If there's anything you'd like to see more of, feel free to put it in the comments of this or any post...and stay tuned for LOTS more content over the next few days!

Next Review: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Expected Posting Date: Saturday, February 6th)



**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of The Shipping News, published by Scribner Book Company in 1992**

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