Michael Crummey deserves your literary respect

Early on in Galore before introducing most of the characters and landmarks that populate fictional Newfoundland seaport Paradise Deep Michael Crummey as narrator describes Jabez Trim’s Bible. Trim who held Protestant services in the region before the arrival of any official minister from the Anglican and Methodist churches had extracted the Good Book from the throat of a cod. Generally legible the physical book’s submersion in the body of the fish caused acute distortions of certain passages of text. For example water and cod phlegm blurred the ending of Genesis 22:1-24 so that after verse 10 — “And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay Isaac his son” — nobody in Paradise Deep who could read could say for sure what really happened.

No such obstacles prevent the reader from enjoying Galore. Shortlisted for the 2009 Governor General Award for Fiction the centre of the almost timeless universe in Crummey’s third novel is immutably fixed in the nation (or Dominion as it were) of pre-Confederation Newfoundland. In Galore’s Newfoundland the native lifestyle of hard work privation pagan/Christian rituals and a black cynical fatalism infect those who live under the harshly uncertainties of a fisherman’s economy.

Crummey depicts Newfoundland neither in the stark Spartan prose of heightened historical realism that he used to describe early 18th century Newfoundland in his first novel River Thieves nor in the alternatively rich pastoral language and flat journalistic facts of pre- and post-Confederation 20th century Newfoundland in his less successful second novel The Wreckage. Abandoning the marriage of storytelling to historical fact demonstrated by contemporary Canadian novelists such as Guy Vanderhaeghe Michael Redhill and Rudy Wiebe Crummey stylistically and conceptually develops an indigenous magical realism emulating but not borrowing from Gabriel García Márquez Alejo Carpentier and Carlos Fuentes.

Crummey’s stylistic development in Galore since the historical realism of his first two novels is considerable. Crummey employs an innovative yet deliberately rudimentary punctuation technique replacing quotation marks with dashes. This stylistic affectation serves to remove the buffer of external media from not only the plot but also from a direct and intimate understanding of the characters. Such atavistic punctuation also enhances the potency of Galore’s local Newfoundland dialect.

Crummey depicts Paradise Deep as a remote isolated fiefdom motivated and informed by pagan myth and superstition before reintroducing to the reader the collective epiphany that the Newfoundland people experienced with the arrival of William Coaker founder of the Fisherman’s Protective Union in the late 19th century.

Ultimately the only disservice that Crummey did in writing Galore he did to himself. Galore reads so smoothly that the reader could easily overlook that Crummey is composing literature. When the protagonist Judah “the Great White” Devine scratches biblical verses with an iron nail on the wooden walls of his primitive one-room prison Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words during which Hugh Selwyn Mauberley wrote his own personal story of the Second World War upon the walls and ceilings of the Grand Elyseum Hotel in the Austrian Alps echoed loudly. What is the significance of this crafted echo?

Galore is no light and breezy tale told along Conception Fortune Placentia or Fortune Bay. Crummey invests his endeavour with erudition and the commitment of a true author and artist; the committed reader should return the favour by engaging in thoughtful applied literary analysis to show Crummey the heightened respect he has earned.