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E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News: A Word-Hoard

Once I’d encountered the word “hive-spangled” (a hyphenated compound that I’d imagine Hart Crane would have enjoyed using if not inventing outright—later I would come to find other gems like “blind-wrapped” and “ice-scabbed”) in E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News I knew I’d enjoy reading it. In fact, the book’s weaving of muscular bluntness with a lapidary lexicon (its grace marred and balance tipped, at times, by a heavy-handedness) buoyed me along in a narrative using the metaphor of knots, the use of which served to create a suffocating tension relieved only by a somewhat disappointing tying of many of the story’s dangling threads.

I’ve gotten into the habit of collecting words from books, and then entering them into what I call my “word-hoard.” Here’s my catch from The Shipping News (these words are best seen in their context, since Proulx uses each word carefully, never giving the impression that she’d flipped through a thesaurus to find unusual words):

waterweed, crenshaw, ruched, excoriation, saucisson, gyred, unguent, dolman, slovenly, tetter, doddering, atavistic, babushka, papillose, tuckamore, pumiced, auroral, craquelured, gansey, gledgy, knout, dottle, ocherous, dory, bight, nonpareil, yaffle, hove, char, stribbled, streeling, skreel, blatted, bollard, tatting, riven, duff, skivers, hangashore, ocky, trawl, vitrid, thunge, yawed, neap, drenty, turr, sadiron, skate-risp, skirling, skreaking, rhomboid, quadrate, bootjack, slewed, marlingspikes, fids, shinnicked, pelm, wizzled, cowling, screech, rucking, flobber, strigil, sinnits, glutch, slindgers, lunettes, hectoring, rondels, satinas, sputniks, komatik, mummers, jannies, graples, ichor, monger, twacking, whelk, jinker, caplin, hummocky, dishclout, bergy, ribband, noggin, shunt, sishy, hawser, lugubrious, and rine

  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

11 thoughts on “E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News: A Word-Hoard

  1. I’ve read all of her short story collections, her first novel Postcards- didn’t get through Shipping News, probably my bad- and think she’s fantastic. I admire her outsider status, her blunt honesty regarding aspects of the publishing world. When she guest edited BASS, she refused to read blind, saying in her intro- that it was bullshit, basically, and that the editors almost always knew who they were reading anyway.

    1. Hi, Paula. I really enjoyed reading her novella Brokeback Mountain from Close Range: Wyoming Stories, hence my taking the novel off the shelf here at my friend’s house in Far Rockaway. I think Proulx has a distinctive style, which seems equal parts McCarthy and Nabokov, with a dash of Updike’s lyrical brilliance, I’m definitely curious to see more of what she does.

      I’ve no idea about her forthrightness about the publishing world, but I heard something about her becoming angry about some aspect of how the abovementioned novella was dramatized.

    2. “When she guest edited BASS, she refused to read blind, saying in her intro- that it was bullshit, basically, and that the editors almost always knew who they were reading anyway.”

      Well, that says a lot about what they were reading, certainly.

      There isn’t *that* much to applaud in substituting blatant log-rolling for sham inclusiveness. How about going for real inclusiveness instead, hmm?

      1. Blatant log rolling? You haven’t read much of her constant rants regarding her problems with book publishing. She couldn’t be a log roller if her life depended on it. She just refuses to pretend to read “blind” because she thinks its bullshit. I don’t get how that’s log rolling. No one is more outside the literary “community” than Annie Proulx.

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