The first time I heard about Sweetland (Jan 2015) was on one of my favorite podcasts, Books on the Nightstand. I believe it was back in April this year and they picked it as an audiobook of the week. Well I finally got to the print version last week and it was the perfect read to get me out of my busy head and settle in to a story with eccentric characters, a setting I could escape to, and a quiet, slowly building plot.
Moses Sweetland is a 69 year-old native from the town of Sweetland, on a remote island off of the coast of Newfoundland. The town is named for his ancestors who settled the island and the government wants to buy out all the people from the island. Everyone has to vacate the town to receive the settlement and Moses is the last one holding out.
The story is a quiet one filled with atmospheric prose. A LOT of atmospheric prose, but it works. Because Moses is pretty much alone. Alone with his thoughts, alone in his surroundings even with the occasional interaction with a cast of quirky secondary characters. He is alone in his decision to stay on Sweetland and alone with his day-to-day survival. In addition to the gorgeous descriptions of the environment surrounding Moses, Crummey created characters that leapt off of the pages. I fell in love with them as I did Moses. The language Crummey used to set the scenes, build the story and describe each character was master class writing. Here is a description of Jesse, Moses’ great-nephew, whom most would describe as being on “the spectrum”:
“What was it about the youngster? It was his seriousness, maybe, that made him seem distant. He was doggedly loyal and affectionate in a standoffish way that a body could confuse for the opposite of affection and loyalty. He had a cat’s self-centred indifference to the world as others saw it, a cat’s inscrutable motivations. He took odd notions, running off now and again for no obvious reason, disappearing up on the mash or hiding out at the lighthouse or as far as the Priddles’ cabin in the valley. He never tried to explain himself after the fact or was incapable of it. He couldn’t be trusted altogether because you couldn’t guess with any certainty what he was thinking.”
The novel read as a ghost story to me. Little pieces of the past catching up with the present. It did take some time to settle in to a slow paced novel with the Newfoundland dialect but I found myself unable to put the book down or get the story out of my head.
*I picked up Sweetland (2015 Liveright) by Michael Crummey at my library and this 336 page contemporary/historical fiction novel was first published in Canada in 2014.