The Shipping News
Chapter 28: The Skater's Chain Grip
The aunt gets out of the house to take a walk, and finds the old pond where she used to skate when she was growing up. She remembers a particular day in which she was out skating when a boy (or man) came after her, unbuttoning his pants. When the aunt goes back inside, she and Quoyle discuss how they will get through the winter. Quoyle has already figured out how much it would cost to plow the road from the house, or pay Dennis to take them back and forth to town on the ferry. (They would not be able to drive the road in all the snow). Both options are expensive, and Quoyle has noticed that the aunt's furniture still has not arrived. He suggests that they rent a place in town for the winter, and use the family house as a summer house. Quoyle thinks he, Bunny, and Sunshine could stay in Nutbeem's trailer when Nutbeem leaves, but the aunt would need to find another room.
The aunt is taken aback by Quoyle's planning, but nonetheless asks Mavis Bangs for rental advice. Mavis also seems one step ahead of the aunt—she has already picked up the aunt's mail, and finished their latest upholstery project. One of the aunt's pieces of mail is a package; she opens it to find a stack of American money, tied in blue leather—the very same leather used to upholster the Melville's boat.
Chapter 29: Alvin Yark
Quoyle and the girls move in with Beety and Dennis just for the time being. Tert Card makes a very suspicious call to see Beety one morning, and tries to cover up his visit by telling Quoyle that he needs to go check up on a ship fire. The news is that the cargo ship the Rome caught fire.
Quoyle takes Wavey and all the children with him to Alvin Yark's house to see if Alvin can build Quoyle a boat. (Alvin is actually Wavey's uncle). Quoyle learns that the entire community of Nunny Bag Cove, where the Yarks live, burned a few years back, and was all rebuilt with insurance money. The children love Alvin's wife's kitchen, especially the little teacups. Alvin gives Quoyle his thoughts on how to build a good boat, and plans to go out to the woods to find some timber so he can get started.
The Sun Clouded Over
Meanwhile, the aunt is staying at the Sea Gull Inn. One night, Quoyle and the girls go over to have dinner with her. She tells them that she has taken a job in St. John's, where there is more of a demand for upholsterers; she will be reupholstering the Rome. The aunt plans on moving back to Newfoundland when the winter is through. When asked, Quoyle tells her he will not be going back to New York. During the dinner, Bunny shows them all a string trick called "The Sun Clouded Over"; she is using a bit of knotted string that she found in Quoyle's car.
These three chapters give insight into the aunt's character. In Chapter 20, Billy Pretty repeats his father's wisdom concerning women: in every man's heart, there is a maid in the meadow, a stouthearted woman, a demon lover, and a tall and quiet woman. Undoubtedly, the aunt is the stouthearted woman in Quoyle's life. The aunt's walk to the pond suggests a past suffering that is still a mystery to the reader. The boy or man who came after her on the ice was perhaps Guy, Quoyle's brother, but at this point, his identity is still unclear. This incident demonstrates a formative experience that helped shape the aunt's stouthearted personality. Sexual abuse only seemed to make her stronger. And even as a little girl, when the aunt found her laces broken, she knew just how to knot them to hold her skates in place. Likewise, the aunt has always managed to hold herself in place no matter what life threw at her.
At the same time as these chapters establish the aunt's strength, they also call her invulnerability into question. For whatever reason, the aunt falters in the way she manages her life and her work. Quoyle notices a few different times that the furniture she was supposed to have shipped from Long Island still has not arrived; it seems as if the aunt cannot follow through on her project to fix up the house. Also, in a true role-reversal, Quoyle has thought through their winter plans before the aunt has even started to think about it. Up to this point, the aunt had always been the one to plan and step to new challenges. Quoyle seems to be growing into a more capable character, while the aunt regresses. The same is true in the upholstery shop, where the aunt's assistant is a step ahead of her, finishing projects and picking up the aunt's mail for her.
Proulx uses several images to convey the bleakness of the coming winter in Newfoundland. Instead of a portrait of a quaint, white winter, her similes suggest decay and contamination. The fog is "as dense as cotton waste" and the fog lights "as dull as dirty saucers." By comparing the weather to waste, Proulx achieves a sense of disgust or revulsion. Even the moonlight, she writes, shines like a motorcycle headlight. This comparison reduces a celestial body to a merely mundane human machine. These bleak images set the stage for the theme of Chapter 30, which is titled "The Sun Clouded Over." The creation Bunny makes with the string symbolizes the dreariness of the change in seasons, and the sadness of the aunt's departure.