01 December 2015
Sweetland by Michael Crummey
The scarcely populated town of Sweetland rests on the shore of a remote Canadian island. Its slow decline finally reaches a head when the mainland government offers each islander a generous resettlement package—the sole stipulation being that everyone must leave. Fierce and enigmatic Moses Sweetland, whose ancestors founded the village, is the only one to refuse. As he watches his neighbors abandon the island, he recalls the town’s rugged history and its eccentric cast of characters. Evoking The Shipping News, Michael Crummey—one of Canada’s finest novelists—conjures up the mythical, sublime world of Sweetland’s past amid a stormbattered landscape haunted by local lore. As in his critically acclaimed novel Galore, Crummey masterfully weaves together past and present, creating in Sweetland a spectacular portrait of one man’s battle to survive as his environment vanishes around him.
In the seventh, and final, Riot Read envelope, there was a book titled Sweetland by Michael Crummey. It came highly recommended by most of the Riot staff and the insert was written by Brenna Clark Gray who has a thorough knowledge of Canadian literature (last Canada Day, she tweeted a #CanLit recommendation for each year of Canada's independece). It took me a few months to get around to it - and a little push from a SRC task - but I did get around to Sweetland.
Which I feel is a sentiment that the narrator, Moses Sweetland, would have appreciated. Time moves slowly on Sweetland's island. Sure they have electricity and the Internet, but it's still a place of hiking, fishing, and trapping. People leave and they come back. You have a lot of time to think and Moses Sweetland does a lot of thinking over the course of the novel. About his mother, his uncle, his brother, his niece and her special-needs son, his own life both on and off the island, and the time he rescued Sri Lankan migrants and discovered a secret his sister had been keeping. Interestingly, the reason why the government is so insistent on everyone taking the buyout is never explored. But why should the reason matter? Sweetland the narrator does not care why the government wants the town's residents moved - he only feels that his place is on the island.
The novel becomes increasingly fraught - not necessarily through action, although there are tense moments, but through Sweetland's memories. He has no wish to be elsewhere and so becomes part of the environment. Sweetland is a melancholy, meditative novel about one man's connection to a particular place and his wish to remain just as he is, on his island.
Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book through a Book Riot subscription program.