Published by Liveright on January 19th 2015
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For over a hundred years, Moses Sweetland’s family has lived on a secluded island off the coast of Newfoundland. Though it once held its own in the bustling fishing industry, the decline of recent years has sparked the mainland government to offer the residents a generous resettlement package, with the requirement that every inhabitant leave. One by one, even the most dogmatic of Sweetland’s neighbors give in to the idea of relocation, leaving the man pondering his past, his family and the secrets that haunt the land around him.
Though it took some time to settle into the novel’s quiet, almost distant style, I immediately began to appreciate Michael Crummey’s knack for showing over telling. Every bit of Sweetland‘s landscape, from familial connections to topography and even diagnoses, is laid out in delicate woven threads instead of harsh lines. The novel begs for attention, and close reading is rewarded with an investment in Crummey’s irresistible characters.
“Clara laid a hand across her eyes and there was her mother, Sweetland thought. Clara had almost nothing else of Ruth in her, but that subtle gesture of exhaustion or anxiety or annoyance was Sweetland’s sister to a T. He took the meat across the kitchen to the freezer, to put a little more space between himself and that eerie transformation.”
Sweetland tightens its grip in the second half, with Moses and the surrounding landscape meeting in a wash of memory and realization. In the intricate lives of his layered characters, Michael Crummey reminds us of the clear, sometimes heartbreaking distinction between seclusion and solitude.