I got chills reading the last pages of Michael Crummey's Sweetland. Real chills. Okay, okay, I was outside when I finished it, but they weren't cold chills. They were beauty chills mixed in with the eerie turn of the conclusion of this most excellent novel.
The eerie-ness pervades the novel as our protagonist, Moses Sweetland, after refusing to leave Sweetland Island (yes, they share the name) along with the rest of its inhabitants (bought-out by the smarmy government man), finds himself alone... or is he? Not actually that dun, dun, dun dramatic: the quasi-supernatural elements of the text read as entirely believable, if also wholly unsettling. Another way of putting it: the "realist" portrayal of the Island already reads as magical and out-of-time and so when eerie things begin happening the reader accepts these moments as what they are: eerie and entirely possible in the space/place of Sweetland.
Sweetland as space/place is some great setting. The Island assumes its own character with a personality that is alternately forgiving and vengeful. If you weren't already contemplating a trip to Newfoundland (as I am!), the representation of the expanse and the mystery might well have you planning.
Minor quibble? Descriptions of some of the "action" plot moments were a bit too heady for me to follow. I couldn't quite visualize where people were and what they were doing and so just accepted that Things Were Going Wrong, read the descriptions, then waited for the description of the outcome to really piece together what happened. There aren't many of these moments, but when they do happen this reader felt a little left out of the action, particularly as these moments occurred in climactic scenes.
On reflection, part of my feeling of being left out might be purposeful: I am not from/of Newfoundland. These slightly muddy descriptions happened in boats and on rocks. It's not impossible that my confusion stems from not knowing enough about boats and Newfoundland geography. Perhaps these moments are a way of echoing one of the themes of the novel, that is that those of/from Newfoundland will always have a special connection to the land that others will not. In this way these moments of dislocation for the Ontario-reader are a way of letting me know what it feels like to leave/be forced out of Newfoundland.
The character, setting and plot of this book are beautiful and magical. Another brilliant read from Crummey. Enjoy!
When's she not reading, Erin Aspenlieder is teaching, running or eating cookies (sometimes all at once). She prefers fiction and books made of paper. She blogs at literaryvice.ca