Michael Crummey, Sweetland

Michael Crummey's Sweetland is a remarkable novel -- maybe predictably remarkable, but that's hardly a genuine strike against it, even if I'd slot Sweetland pretty high on my coveted and top-secret shortlist for "best Canadian novel not to hook me".

Mind you, maybe it's just that my bones are too Western Canadian for me to be able to read East Coast fiction with the right frame of mind. (Not that this is a problem for the National Post reviewer quoted below….) Crummey's is a satisfyingly evocative Newfoundland, a richly drawn world that's almost entirely unlike my experience in the same country. On the island of Sweetland, there aren't any First Nations; the settlers have been there in the same houses with the same neighbours for generations on generations; and the trees are more like shrubs.

It's a long way from BC, is what I'm saying.

But the novel's lessons are familiar ones, even if I believe in Moses Sweetland (and I do), even if I admired Crummey's creation of the autistic young boy Jesse, and even if the landscape of Sweetland's island is as loaded with significance as that of Pilgrim's Progress. A city will change you -- Toronto might eat you alive, when you come to it from the country. If there's no one to speak for a place, the place dies. I get it. These are traditional lessons in rural Canadian fiction, highly traditional in East Coast fiction, and I didn't want to read that book again. Not this month, anyway, for whatever reason, even if it's a polished and impressive book.

Everybody else loves this novel, though:

  • "Crummey's novel is all of a piece, its apparent simplicity of style, like that of its protagonist and his setting, concealing a primordial power" (Aparnya Sanyal, Globe and Mail)
  • "Sweetland is a thing of beauty, one of the finest novels we are likely to encounter this year" (Robert Wiersema, National Post)
  • "Crummey's finest novel yet" (Brian Bethune, Maclean's)

What the hell do I know.


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