by Darryl Keeping, Guest Author
Newfoundland’s Michael Crummey has a way of telling stories that speak to the Newfoundland experience while also exploring universal themes that appeal to all readers. Awarded the Writer’s Trust Fellowship in 2015, Crummey’s poetry and prose – in multiple genres- have become some of Canada’s best-loved works.
Where is Newfoundland?
Newfoundland an island in the North Atlantic. Technically, the full name of this province of Canada is Newfoundland and Labrador, with Labrador connected to Quebec and, therefore, the rest of the country. It was the tenth and final province to join Canada in 1949. Depending on where in Newfoundland people come from, the influences include the English, Irish, and Scottish. In the largest community and capital, St. John’s, the influences are more widespread. All this is to say that Newfoundland is an ever-changing place, with many stories to be told.
Many people do not know about the resettlement program which began in Newfoundland in 1965. Small communities close to the ocean historically survived and thrived on the fishing industry. When the industry modernized, moving from salting to freezing fish, the smaller communities lost their livelihoods to the larger communities. To support those in these small communities, the government decided to offer money to those living there to resettle to larger communities nearby. The result was a new lease on life but also a severe loss to the Newfoundland culture.
Crummey’s novel, Sweetland, is a story set in the fictional community of the same name. While the community is fictonal, the issue facing Sweetland is all too real in Newfoundland: the community is being relocated and all residents are offered monetary settlements by the provincial government to expedite the process. Only one resident is holding out. His name: Moses Sweetland.
Sweetland is finding it difficult to leave the only home he’s ever known, a place named by his ancestors. He has experienced love and heartbreak in this village. He’s seen people come and go; young people leave the community, and often the province, for the oil fields of Alberta or the promise of prosperity in America. Some are successful, others are not so lucky. Sweetland has seen the whole population leave and now he’s alone. Government officials are visiting often with the purpose of getting him out but Moses isn’t budging.
As he fends off the government and his time in Sweetland runs out, Moses looks back on his life and what brought him to this point: an eternal bachelor revelling in his simple life.
Sweetland is a novel that takes the reader on a journey through a small town, showing the many characters that inhabit such a place. Some are delightful, others are infuriating. Moses himself walks that line throughout the novel. He is at once a sympathetic older man fighting for his right to live his life out in his hometown and a cantankerous old codger, spitting venom at those who cross him.
This novel takes some surprising turns and the third act takes on an almost dreamlike atmosphere. The struggles are relatable and the issues are heartbreaking. Crummey has a unique voice. He respects and appreciates small town life in Newfoundland and he also sees the necessity of letting go. I can think of no better introduction to the literary and actual world of Newfoundland.