Monday, September 1, 2014

Sweetland - Michael Crummey

I think Michael Crummey's writing is simply brilliant. His latest book, Sweetland, is newly released. Knowing I would become immersed in Crummey's storytelling, I saved it to devour on a week off.

Oh, where to start? I simply don't think I have the words to do this book justice.

Moses Sweetland has lived on Sweetland Island, Newfoundland for his entire sixty nine years - as did his father and many generations before that. There were a few trips off island for work, but this is home. Until the government decides that the community needs to be 'resettled'. (This is very real - both past and present)  The offer is generous and all of the residents accept the package - except Moses Sweetland. But the government's offer stipulates that everyone must agree and sign before the offer goes through. The first half of the book introduces us to Moses and the other residents of the village. Crummey's residents are unique and unforgettable - from the woman who has not set foot outside her house in forty years to the barber who hasn't cut anyone's hair in almost that long and more. Moses's young nephew Jesse was particularly moving. But it was the character of Moses that grabbed me and simply wouldn't let me go.

Moses's crusty exterior and brusque manner disguise his emotions and 'softer side.' His self sufficiency and work ethic reminded me so much of the hardworking older generations in my life. Taciturn men (and women) who 'just got on with it'.

Crummey tells his story with bits and pieces of the past explained and explored in separate chapters. From these, we are privy to the events that have shaped Moses's life. Sweetland is divided into two parts. Crummey caught me totally unawares with the final pages of the first part - I felt like I had taken a punch to the stomach. I had to go back and reread just to make sure I had it right. This was not what I wanted to have happen! I had become totally invested and immersed in Moses's world and tangibly felt his loss and pain.

Does Moses take the offer? As this is in the flyleaf, it's not a spoiler. Yes, he does. But does he leave the island? No. And that's the second half of the book. Moses and the land he loves. Alone.

Crummey has described his setting so vividly. Crummey himself is Newfoundland born and bred and his voice captures the tone and timbre of a land and it's people. I felt like I was walking along with Moses as he heads up to the mash, down to his stage and up to the keep. The land and rocks, the ocean and the weather are all characters in the book as well. Much more so in the second half as Moses battles the elements, his memories and the thought that he might be going mad. As much as I loved the first half of the book, it was the second half that had me in tears.

I stayed up very, very late to finish this book. My house was still, the night was still. I headed outside after turning the last page. I live in a rural area and my neighbours are a ways away. I sat and looked at the stars and I thought of Moses alone on his island. Sweetland is the kind of book that will stay with me for a long, long time. A life lived. The strength and resilience of the human spirit. Those that go about getting things done without fanfare. The battle between past and present. The land and people that make up Canada.

Sweetland is such an amazing read - highly, highly recommended. Read an excerpt of Sweetland. You can find Michael Crummey on Twitter.


bermudaonion said...

Oh man, Moses sounds like my kind of character. This book sounds outstanding!

Kim Aippersbach said...

Lovely review. I lived in Newfoundland for a year a long time ago; I think I would very much enjoy this book.

Teena in Toronto said...

I'm on hold for it at the library.

Susan O'Bryant said...

I've got to get this one. I've always wanted to visit Newfoundland. Thanks for the great review.