Sweetland by Michael Crummey

Moses Sweetland is a born and bred product of the island that bears his lastsweetland name.  It’s a weather-swept unforgiving place off the coast of Newfoundland where older ways hold sway, the people are resilient yet fragile eccentrics, and the outside world consists of the occasional ferry.

It’s a lifestyle that suits Sweetland – he is a solitary man who accepts company on his own terms, usually with his grandnephew Jesse, a young teenager, who, to others, is a bit “touched.”  While Jesse is an enigma to most, he relates to Sweetland and is glad to help him with fishing or setting rabbit traps, and Sweetland genuinely loves Jesse in his own gruff way.

The Canadian government is offering a hefty sum for all islanders to relocate – the catch is that everyone on the island leaves.  Sweetland becomes the last holdout.  Despite persuasions and threats, he wants to stay; the land is in his blood.  Life on the island is all Sweetland cares to know.  But even he capitulates about half-way through the book – at least we think.

Sweetland is about a place and how it defines its inhabitants.  The book addresses the rhythms of a particular life and the lengths a person will go to maintain these.  A freedom comes with these rhythms for which government trade-offs can’t compensate.

Sweetland as a person comes to embody the soul of the island itself – it’s almost as if his being and memories are a must in order for the place, and knowledge of the place, to exist.

The narrative wanders from present to back story without warning, so be prepared for a stream-of-consciousness, dreamlike telling.  There are emotional passages, and otherworldly ones, with nice dashes of magical realism.  The descriptions of the island will easily evoke its haunted landscape.

Feel the brunt of the North Atlantic.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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