BOOK REVIEW | Sweetland by Michael Crummey

Sweetland by Michael Crummey.jpg

4/5 stars

From the publisher:
For twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous compensation package to leave. But the money is offered with a proviso: everyone has to go; the government won’t be responsible for one crazy coot who chooses to stay alone on an island.

     That coot is Moses Sweetland. Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, haunted by memories of the short and lonely time he spent away from his home as a younger man, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses refuses to leave. But in the face of determined, sometimes violent, opposition from his family and his friends, Sweetland is eventually swayed to sign on to the government’s plan. Then a tragic accident prompts him to fake his own death and stay on the deserted island. As he manages a desperately diminishing food supply, and battles against the ravages of weather, Sweetland finds himself in the company of the vibrant ghosts of the former islanders, whose porch lights still seem to turn on at night.

My thoughts:

Life is beautiful…And we love it because it ends. And we fight for it because it ends. – Michael Crummey

This quote, taken from an interview at The Star with Michael Crummey, makes me want to weep. How beautiful is it to realize that we have to fight for the life we desire? We have to fight because it will be over so quickly.

Sweetland is my second novel by a Newfoundlander in 2016 – the first being Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio – and I absolutely love reading about the way of life and landscape of seaside towns. This is an area of Canada that I would love to explore, and books like these paint the region so beautifully. In Sweetland, Michael Crummey explores a dying way of life as well as mortality, aging, history, and mental illness.

Moses Sweetland, a lifelong inhabitant of his town that bears the same name, is set in his ways and is not interested in the government relocation effort that is taking over the town – despite being offered a generous sum of $100,000. There is one other person who resists relocation as well, but soon enough Moses is the sole resistor. To receive their compensation all residents must agree to relocate; as a result of his resistance,  Moses becomes the recipient of threatening messages. Moses eventually agrees to the government’s plan, but a tragic accident causes him to fake his own death and return to the island. The second part of the book begins here, with Moses alone on the island, struggling to survive.

You may be thinking that a book with a single character in it for 150+ pages would be boring or not worth the read but, for me, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I adored how quiet this book was, how Crummey painted a vivid portrait of the town that allowed us to better understand Moses and his history. I felt so connected to Moses, this curmudgeonly man who slowly descends into a poor mental state, and rooted for him the whole way through. The final chapter is so heartbreaking and beautiful that I immediately read it a second time. This is a  work of quiet beauty that had me from the first page to the last.

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