Following is a review of Sweetland by Michael Crummey, Liveright Publishing Company, NY, 2014.
In preparation for a trip to Newfoundland several years ago I read a wonderful novel entitled Galore by Michael Crummey. That story encapsulated a sense of the island and the people who lived there with their peculiarities and foibles. It was an extremely well told tale. So I was pleased to find a newer book by the same author set again in Newfoundland. Like Galore, Sweetland deserves plaudits.
The plot of the novel is fairly simple. A village on an outlying island is fading away and the government decides to relocate all the residents to the mainland (which, of course, is also an island, although much, much larger). The hitch is that all of the 100 or so residents must accept the government’s offer. Several, including the story’s protagonist, Moses Sweetland, stubbornly refuse, but they are ultimately pressured into acceptance by their neighbors. However, following the death of his great nephew Jesse, Sweetland changes his mind, fakes his own death and stays behind to eke out a solitary existence.
The beauty of the story is in the characters, dimples and warts included, mostly recalled through the memories of Moses Sweetland. The islanders were a peculiar bunch, as is Sweetland himself. The tapestry jerks forward and backward with various anecdotes and pieces of history fleshing out the tale in a sporadic fashion. Ultimately, of course, Sweetland has to come to terms with himself, his own past, his relationships and his ghosts. Along the way the reader is pulled into a better understanding not just of the hard scrabble life on an out island, but of the complex web of human ties that bind and blind relationships.