In early fall of 2009, I was given the pleasure of interviewing Michael Crummey. One may say it was the best day of my life but I have since been married and given birth, so I should just keep some thoughts to myself.
He invited me into his house, gave me a strong cup of coffee and showed me the view from his completely original and creative living room. His kids popped their head out to say hello, and he sat and spoke as if the conversation was easy and swift and all those eloquent words just fell off his tongue. Meanwhile, I was sweaty, nervous, my brain was foggy and I cringed at every word I said and suddenly I was throwing out likes and justs like it was nobody’s business.
How did he speak so perfectly and I sounded like a 15 year-old turd?
We chatted about Galore, he signed all of his novels for me. Encouraged me to keep writing and made me feel completely at home.
As I drove away from his house, I pulled over on the side of the road, out of view and called my brother and told him that it was indeed the best day of my life. I was high from two cups of coffee and pure adrenaline. Obviously, the only person who could understand was my brother, who also had a literary crush on Crummey.
Interviews come and go for Crummey, he writes a book and it’s awesome and everyone contacts him. I worked for a local arts magazine that is no longer being published, so I didn’t deem any importance to him, I’m assuming.
After I received a copy of Sweetland in the mail in January of this year, I dodged the Crummey interview again because I was too nervous. Like watching Black Fish, I knew it was good for me but could I handle it?
We met in a coffee shop, talked rural Newfoundland, his mysterious ending in Sweetland and the pros and cons of the capital, the meaning of life and again, it would go down in history as an extremely memorable moment.
So you can imagine my devastation, when I lost our recorded conversation. We talked about the meaning of life for goodness sakes- I mean the answer could have been lost in there.
Until I found it again, hidden in the archives of my app. Another staple day in the history of my life, until I listened to it and had to hear myself speak.
After Galore there was probably a lot of expectation put on Crummey to be the next best thing to come out of Canada. I mean he is a genius. This is what he was meant to do but no pressure. Crummey felt what we all felt after Galore was published: this was his greatest work and it was his peak.
“I had a huge hangover from Galore. When I started writing Galore and all the way through writing it, I felt like that’s the book I was meant to write- so now what the hell am I going to do?” said the author. “I enjoyed writing that book so much that every idea I had after just seemed lame. It took me a long time to settle on an idea and then get into it.”
Then came Sweetland, the story of resettlement, a man’s connection to his past, mortality, a search for the meaning of life and an understanding of community.
“I was nervous I would feel underwhelmed by whatever I wrote. Once I got going on this, it took over. I was completely convinced by it and it felt like a book from the start,” he said of Sweetland.
Moses Sweetland is the main character in the novel who is refusing to pick up and leave in favour of resettlement. He remains in the community, alone and trying to survive. The novel reminds us of the need for social connection, the interdependence on people and at one point, we ask ourselves, is Sweetland alive or is this a sort of afterlife?
“Decide for yourself. Everybody hates when I say that, but it’s true. I think you can make an argument from both places, where he may have crossed over and definitely what happens in the second half of the book – that line between the real world and other world and line between life and death becomes a lot harder to distinguish,” said the writer with a laugh. “In a way, this book starts in this quotidian factual world and drifts off into the world that Galore started in. I didn’t want to have it be a clear moment where you know for sure. I wanted people to make up their own minds and people feel strongly about their points.”
From the very first page of the novel, there is this overwhelming sense of loss. We all have this ideal vision of Newfoundland that it is founded on small outports lining the island thriving on fishing communities with mummers at Christmas and screech by the fire. Though it is our foundation and the sense of community is deep within our hearts, some areas will have to resettle as they were based on an industry that is no longer available.
“I think it’s inevitable that we will lose a lot of these places because without the cod there really is no reason to keep them. I am not someone who thinks we have to save all these places and it’s a travesty, we should poor millions of dollars into saving them. They have to be sustainable on some level or they are fake communities, they aren’t a real living breathing place,” said Crummey.
He had visited many places that had be resettled or in this mist of change through different circumnavigations and it was through his own eyes he saw the difference in Newfoundland (check out his piece on the changes in NL in Globe and Mail here)
“Even in some cases I recognize that it’s inevitable that we lose them, it’s still devastating to watch it. I grew up in a dying mining town and to see people leaving year after year and see the place shrinking and things shutting down- that really marked me. That had a huge impact on who I am, as a writer certainly to see that happening in a bunch of other communities- I find it hard to watch,” said the Buchan’s born writer.
Is that the meaning of life? Holding onto tradition, ignoring change and stubbornly trying to force an idea on everyone else even if it is not in their best interest? It seems that would be Moses Sweetland’s answer, that doesn’t mean he lived the best life, or perhaps afterlife or maybe he did, his actions were quite admirable.
Though I know everyone is waiting on the edge of their seat for Crummey and I to hash out the philosophies of life, but I realize I may have exaggerated the worth of our recording while it was lost in cyberspace.
We asked the same questions everyone does, without coming to any sort of conclusion. The idea of resettlement has a greater meaning in relation to the life cycle.
“It’s like a little metaphor for the human condition really. How to we live a life when it feels like it has no meaning, even though we know what the ultimate end is? In a lot of ways resettlement is a set up for this book but it’s about mortality- how do we live when we know, when we see that coming, how do we make a life for ourselves when we know that’s what up ahead?” asked Crummey while I sat and waited for him to answer.
“I don’t have the answer- there are two sides to it. In some ways you could look at it and say ‘the fact that we all die means life is meaningless and why bother with anything?’ but the flip side is to think we are all going to die and that makes life very precious and what a miracle that we are even here at all and make the most of every second. I feel like I flip between those things on a daily basis.”
“Part of the mystery around existence, the way we have of creating meaning. We create meaning in our lives by living, not ignoring but putting those ultimate questions on the back burner. Actually I don’t know if there is any ultimate meaning to this and chances are there aren’t but this is my life, I get up in the morning, I deal with what I am confronted with and most of the time that feels happy,” he continued.
It’s not the answer but it’s the darn truth. We are all aware that the mortality is at the end of this journey and either we accept it or ignore it. We take life by the horns and make the best of it or become lost in despair by the inevitable.
Either way, Sweetland is an exceptional read. It considers mortality in the deepest forms. In a sense Sweetland’s transformation is similar to someone’s journey with terminal illness, as Crummey described it and it’s pretty profound that a writer could emotionally portray that experience.
I don’t know why we were all worried about the aftermath of Galore, why didn’t we recognize the genius capability of Crummey and assume his works would just continue to pour forth with great intelligence and deep meaning?
Well have faith in his writing and as he writes, he improves and advances, if you think that is even possible. I am looking forward to what comes next.
Maybe this time, he really will offer me the answer to life.