A Lost Lady
The Shipping News
“I’m tired of going somewhere. I want to be there!”
These words spoken by Bunny Quoyle, riding along with her family on their way to the old homestead in Killick Claw, New Foundland seems an exclamation to a deeper desire to settle what has been an unsettled and unhappy life. The quote could also define the transition that Quolyle, Bunny’s father, experiences. Quoyle is nowhere it seems, until he finally arrives somewhere meaningful. The transformation is a lot about getting over the loss of his wife, Petal, but also much about getting over himself as a loser and getting to a place of contentedness and confidence. Quoyle’s life rides on waves – some small that are body-surfing-like, others that are huge and tumultuous that crash onshore with Tsunami-like devastation. Eventually, he manages to find a place suitable and sustaining.
Quoyle began life feeling, believing that he had been born into the wrong family; that somehow he ended up with the wrong parents. He stumbled into adulthood, feeling invisible until someone noticed. His lack of esteem and confidence is evidenced by his always trying to hide his chin with his hand; the hand always goes to the chin, his monstrous chin, when he feels threatened. His love for Petal is partly based on the fact that he caught her attention – once, quite by accident – and that they had a meaningless sexual relationship that resulted in two children. He is the sort of character you feel sorry for from the start, feel badly that he’ll never become anybody, never make something of himself, yet you want to cheer for him all along the way.
As we get to know Quoyle, we realize that although he has a negative self image, is always self conscious and has no confidence in his abilities, he has a huge heart and a huge capacity to love, and he especially has a huge consciousness to do what is right for his family. Quoyle is a man growing into himself. His first opportunity to grow comes by an invitation from his aunt to move to New Foundland, to settle in his family’s ancestral home and to find his roots.
“You can be anything you want with a fresh start,”
says his aunt in convincing him to go. And off they all go – the aunt, Quoyle, Bunny and Sunshine – and all their self-possessed demons. Arriving in the ancestral land, Quoyle and the aunt first take notice of the cities of ice, like
“bergs with cores of beryl, blue gems within white gems, that some said gave off an odor of almonds – a scent remembered as being bitter.”
As soon as they arrive in the unforgiving land, a place where one
“works desperately just to stay alive,”
the bitter reminders of a past life, of past ancestral deeds, invade their new beginnings. First, Quoyle fights his sleepless dreams and waking visions of Petal, his dead wife, and of how she died – and with whom. The aunt fights her memories of abuses and invasions against her by her own brother, Quoyle’s father. Bunny fights the will to wake up her dead mother, who she truly has been led to believe is only sleeping with the angels, and that she hasn’t really left her to fend for herself. Quoyle finds himself on a down-wave.
“There was the familiar feeling that things were going wrong,”
and that Quolye couldn’t make them right. His daughters call him dumb, that Petal had always told them their dad is dumb, and Quoyle responds, intelligently, that
“Everybody is dumb about some things.”
Quoyle begins to believe it was a dumb idea to go to Killick Claw, that the house was uninhabitable and that there would be no work for him and no place for his daughters to play or to go to school and make friends. But, then Quoyle finds himself on an up-wave when he does get a job.
He becomes a reporter for The Gammy Bird, the local newspaper, and he writes about car wrecks and then the shipping news. Here, Quoyle’s transformation begins to take place – Quoyle – from gambly, awkward, loser, from one job to another, from moments of