The story centers on Quoyle, a newspaper pressroom worker from upstate New York whose father had emigrated from Newfoundland. Shortly after his parents' joint suicide, Quoyle's unfaithful and abusive wife Petal leaves town and attempts to sell their daughters Bunny and Sunshine to sex traffickers. Soon thereafter, Petal and her lover are killed in a car accident; the young girls are located by police and returned to Quoyle. Despite the safe return of his daughters, Quoyle's life is collapsing. His paternal aunt, Agnis Hamm, convinces him to make a new beginning by returning to their ancestral home in Newfoundland.
In Newfoundland, they move into Agnis's childhood home, an empty house on Quoyle's Point. Quoyle finds work as a reporter for the Gammy Bird, the local newspaper in Killick-Claw, a small town. The Gammy Bird's editor asks him to cover traffic accidents (reminding him of Petal's fate) and also the shipping news, documenting the arrivals and departures of ships from the local port. This develops as Quoyle's signature column.
Over time, Quoyle learns deep and disturbing secrets about his ancestors that emerge in strange ways. As Quoyle builds his new life in Newfoundland, he is transformed. He creates a rewarding job, makes friends, and begins a relationship with a local woman, Wavey Prowse.