Monday, October 3, 2016

Re-reading The Shipping News

Voluntaryist View -- The Shipping News

It has been 25 years between my readings, but The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx, has gained considerably, surviving a good but inadequate movie, and becoming a How-To manual on pushing through the obstacles toward a voluntary life.  The protagonist, Quoyle, moves from a trailer park life in a desolate part of NY State, back to his ancestral home (that he has never before seen) in a remote part of Newfoundland in the environs of a fishing town named Killick-Claw.  In Killick-Claw, Quoyle lands a job as a newspaper man, with the local paper called The Gammy Bird, writing the column called "The Shipping News."

But enough about the surface detail.  This book is layered, entwined, densely textured from any view. To me, however, the thematic substance is clear.  Throughout the book, Proulx makes casual reference to knots, nets, moorings, connections, tethers, and webs.  Quoyle escapes one web, wherein he is a wrecked man-child with very few prospects, then over a complete cycle of Newfoundland's annual weather cycle, he becomes a man who learns that all of his choices are voluntary, and given time, are mostly to good effect.

There is a subplot in which Newfoundland is going through a similar mid life crisis.  There is a strong anti-big government and anti-crony capitalism vein here.  Proulx wears her heart on her sleeve.  See the following passage spoken by one of her characters, Jack Buggit:
"This business about allocating fish quotas as if they was rows of potatoes you could dig. If there’s no fish you can’t allocate them and you can’t catch them; if you don’t catch them, you can’t process them or ship them, you don’t have a living for nobody. Nobody understands their crazy rules no more. Stumble along. They say ‘too many local fishermen for not enough fish.’ Well, where has the fish gone? To the Russians, the French, the Japs, West Germany, East Germany, Poland, Portugal, the UK, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria—or whatever they call them countries nowadays. ... And even after the limit was set, the inshore was no good. How can the fish come inshore if the trawlers and draggers gets ‘em all fifty, a hundred mile out? And the long-liners gets the rest twenty mile out? What’s left for the inshore fishermen?”
If you're like me, you just wonder how can anyone in Ottawa, Ontario know anything about fishing in the North Atlantic?  The answer, regulate the inshore fishermen some more.  Persecute those you can reach.  Pretend as though the outlaws are not there beyond your puny state.  Instigate programs that will have nothing to do with positive outcomes, but will perpetuate the bureaucracy.  And, by the way, when I use "outlaws" above, I do not refer to criminals, only to those being outside the regulatory fictions.

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