“A body must bear what can’t be helped.”
That stark epigram could well serve as an anthem, summing up the entire book in one fateful pronouncement.
As an unblinking portrait of what life was like in the bygone era of Newfoundland’s isolated outports, this novel stands convincingly beside Crummey’s “Sweetland”, which explores the government-imposed shuttering of those tiny settlements. So, while this is primarily an intimate slice-of-life tale about the precarious existence and trials of two quite remarkable young people, it’s also a glimpse into a bygone society.
Michael Crummey has a special ability to portray the most grippingly unpleasant, gritty and painful experiences in the bluntest terms imaginable without causing his reader to shrink away in horror or disgust. His characters are simply obliged to endure, and by his frankness and humanity, Crummey induces us to accept it all as simply the plain truth of the human condition and keep reading. There are no villains here, no sense of evil and if there’s injustice it’s only the injustice of fate. If misfortune befalls, it’s only that which our own lack of foresight or wisdom imposes, not the fruit of malevolence; his characters are often rough, clumsy, lacking in grace or learning but they are well-meaning. You will know them by their lights.
So in the end, there is hardship here, at times seemingly beyond human endurance but there is no tragedy because tragedy stems from a failure of the human spirit, a betrayal of one’s self. And in Michael Crummey’s world, the lamp of the human spirit burns bright.