Normally the "Acknowledgments" section of a novel is of little interest. "Thank you, dear editor" stuff and something for the judges who gave Ms. Proulx a Pulitzer. This time we learn that the introductions to the book and each chapter — not T.S. Eliot poems beginning with Greek poems in Greek — are from a 1944 book, The Ashley Book of Knots, which she "... had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter..." This book-find helped her with her "thread of an idea." Many of us built our own libraries on the thrift-store and library book sale. It is an indication of someone who loves both books and words – enough to follow their muse into the neverland of creating some.
These are wonderful little excerpts, the first of which is the definition of a "Quoyle: A coil of rope." Her protagonist is named Quoyle. He is "Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence... He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds..."
"At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors ... A watery place. And Quoyle feared water, could not swim ... A great damp loaf of a body ... Head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back ... Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face..."
It is hard to resist the description of this character who is to be our guide into the world of those who seek and those who hide from this world. Now we are delivered to this Newfoundland shore where few of us have been. It seems "foreign" and not just a cold version of Cape Cod. Icebergs happen by and the people farm the sea. These are hard-edged fisher-folk with the bite of the winter chill in them.
Underneath the ice and in the lee of the storms comes the story of Quoyle and his little girls (Bunny and Sunshine Quoyle), the memories of his much-beloved wife who was killed while leaving him. Our poor, love-starved Quoyle has only his memory of an unrequited love and a woman who ignored and belittled, had sold his daughters to bankroll her exit. This is his experience of love.