Sweetland by Michael Crummey © 2014 Liveright
Moses Sweetland is the last holdout in a public condemnation of the small Newfoundland island of Sweetland. Nobody will get their money until “Mose” settles with the government. The hard-headed bastard eventually settles to get his neighbors off his back and then goes and drowns in a fishing accident, so it seems.
Actually, Mose faked his death, so he can live out his life on Sweetland Island, even if he has to do it alone, with no electricity, dwindling food, and no help whatsoever if something goes wrong. Crummey’s hard-headed bastard vs. nature story is a framework for uncovering why Mose is the way he is, through Mose’s memories and increasing, isolation-wrought insanity. He’s a much more complex character than you start out believing, and not such a bad guy considering the effects of an industrial accident that would make Mose feel isolated no matter where he lived. So, why not stay where it feels like home?
Because he knows he’s going crazy. He even tries to leave the island, but the ocean won’t let him, after which Mose’s realities and memories and fantasies become so intermixed he, nor the reader, quite knows which is which. This blurring of reality worked well, making Mose’s quest for survival evermore harrowing. And what happens to Mose in the end? I’m still not sure, and I like that creepy ambiguity.
The lawyer in me wanted the reason for the public condemnation better explained, but that’s a very minor complaint in an otherwise eerily beautiful work of fiction. Crummey is anything but, and Sweetland gets a sweet spot of my keepers’ bookshelf.