In her acknowledgments, Proulx states, "And without the inspiration of Clifford W. Ashley's wonderful 1944 work, The Ashley Book of Knots, which I had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter, this book would have remained just a thread of an idea." Ashley's illustrations and quotes are used as chapter headings throughout the book. Some names in the book are taken from knots, for example "Killick hitch" and coil. This coil is called a "quoyle," the protagonist's name, a coil of rope only one layer thick, flat, "so that it may be walked on ..." This metaphor sums up Quoyle's relationship with the world around him in the novel's first half.
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