Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Galore, by Michael Crummey

"The white underbelly was exposed where the carcass keeled to one side, the stomach's membrane floating free in the shallows...dirty seawater pouring from the gash they opened, a crest of blood, a school of undigested capelin and herring, and then the head appeared..."

Michael Crummey has, in his novel Galore (Doubleday, 2009) created a cast of characters too real to be fictitious. Then, just to show his hand at legerdemain, he throws into the mix a man cut from the belly of whale and another who dies only to reappear falling through the roof of his ex-wife's house. Indeed, Mr. Crummey, what sort of voyage are we on?!

It is a voyage of discovery, as all should be. Galore is another of Crummey's historical Newfoundland narratives full of families, fish, and fantasy woven into a rich fabric whose threads tie the reader to the land and its inhabitants. At times lyrical, at others matter of fact in the description of the islanders' poverty and want and their altogether tragic circumstances, Galore is a tale of lives lived, of a place and a time and of love and loss.

Galore’s tales are told from the perspective of people who live in the ‘real’ world but who experience a different reality from the one we call objective. The ghost in Galore is not a fantasy or superstition, but a manifestation of the reality of people who believe in and have "real" experiences of Mr. Gallery; people who walk along the Tolt Road with him, and sit at the hearth with him and discuss what is to be done -- him dead all those years.

Then there is the Widow Devine -- "Her Christian name passed out of use in the decades after her husband was buried and only a handful could even remember what it was" -- who seems invested with supernatural powers. Granted, we see nothing explicit to convince us that she is responsible for the cures or the curses attributed to her, but there are too many 'coincidences.'

Most of Newfoundland was settled almost exclusively by people from a small corner of south-eastern Ireland and another small corner of south-western England. They universally lead a mean existence but despite their common deprivations, manage to retain their religious affiliations and animosities. They may be in the same boat literally and figuratively, but when the fog rolls in and the wind howls like a banshee, and the Grand Banks seem haunted more by the spirits of the dead than by the cod upon which these mendicants of nature depend, then the fishermen pray to their own god, and once back on shore, they build their own churches and burn down their neighbors'.

What makes Crummey's novels about Newfoundlanders (he has written three) so compelling is his clear connection to the land and its people, and his obvious empathy, even distress, in seeing their deprivations, and the depredations visited upon them by both man and nature. Those mean circumstances continue to this day; the cod is gone, and "now the once" the oil will be gone, too. And the people of Newfoundland will be back where they started. Just as the characters and their stories are in this captivating novel.

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