Tuesday May 31st, 2011

Galore by Michael Crummey

Newfoundland-born Crummey has been nominated for Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes. His latest novel, flavored with magical realism and spanning six generations in Newfoundland, opens with a living man emerging from the belly of a beached whale. The man lives the rest of his life without speaking a word, but the rest of the members of Crummey’s sprawling cast speak in “bawdy and blasphemous” dialogue, according to Katherine Govier, one of several Canadian reviewers to praise the novel when it was published up north two years ago.

Govier also called the book “pitch-perfect,” and wrote: “The place lends itself beautifully to a long and confabulating tale featuring naked white men who slide out of whales’ bellies and never lose the fishy smell, children who are sealed in love over a few shared words and never fall out of it until their dying day, ghosts of repentant murderers, usurers who get their ears cut off, connivers who cheat the dying, and so forth. . . . It’s all well told and strangely credible, despite the magic.”

Samantha Hunt, whose own fiction has featured fantastical elements, says, “Crummey . . . will delight readers who like to plumb the depths of northern bleakness: families surviving, or not, on potatoes and salt; mothers who have planted gardens of children; and a beautiful young woman who insists on having all her healthy teeth pulled out so that they won’t cause her trouble later. Like the two-faced ocean they pull their living from, Crummey’s characters in this multi-generational unwinding are icy and surprising.”

Lia Grainger says the setting is the star: “Crummey’s poetics are like the landscape he describes: stark and sparse, but punctuated with a wild richness that creates the impression of something carefully controlled yet on the verge of bursting.”

Finally, Steven Galloway is the clearest in his enthusiasm for Galore, and how it matches up to its influences:

Where Crummey’s first two novels took one or more characters and placed them in a historical context that allowed readers to see both the characters and Newfoundland, which is how most historical novels work, Galore achieves a far more difficult effect. The characters, plot and setting have been fused, in that this book isn’t so much about the people and the events and places that affect them as it is the folkloric sum of Newfoundland, and the characters, as individual and real and compelling as they are, are, for all their strangeness, archetypes, an odd and wonderful mash of biblical and pagan touchstones. It’s an incredibly difficult task to make characters such as these work as human beings as well as elements of folklore, and Crummey does it with as much skill and grace as Gabriel Garcia Márquez does in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel very much the forebear of this book.

Galore by Michael Crummey
Other Press, 352 pp., $15.95