The world of The Shipping News is peopled by eccentrics. One need only look at their names to see that most are embodiments of comic traits: Tert Card, B. Beaufield Nutbeem, Jack Buggit. Even those characters for whom Quoyle (and Proulx) has great affection—Agnis Hamm, Wavey Prowse—bear oddball names. Some names are meant to reflect the colorful Newfoundland dialect, but others—such as Petal Bear, and even Bunny and Sunshine, Quoyle’s bewitched little girls—are clearly intended to be ironic monikers for natives of a place called Mockingburg.
Quoyle himself is an outsider from birth; he is described as odd in appearance, and the narrator remarks that “his earliest sense of self was as a distant figure: there in the foreground was his family; here, at the limit of the far view, was he. Until he was fourteen he cherished the idea that he had been given to the wrong family. . . .”
When, however, he finds his way back to the land of his forebears, a land filled with others as conspicuously idiosyncratic as he, Quoyle is able to find his rightful place in society, to find respect and even love. The object of his affection is a perfect match for him. Abused by her now-dead husband, mother to a retarded son, Wavey, like Quoyle, is one of “the kind who stood with forced smiles watching other people dance, spin on barstools, throw bowling balls.” In a place where drowned men rise from the dead, it is possible, in the end, for two such people to discover that “love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”