by Michael Crummey
The scope, tenor, and influence of Michael Crummey’s Galore are all suggested by its two opening epigrams. First, we have Gabriel Garcia Marquez — The invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love, says the Colombian giant in Memories of My Melancholy Whores. At least Crummey makes his inspiration transparent. In this, the Canadian author’s third and most ambitious novel, a clear debt is owed to Marquez, particularly One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Crummey’s setting is north — Newfoundland. His first two novels are also set here, but with Galore Crummey fashions the fictional fishing communities of Paradise Deep and The Gut from the coastal province. The novel begins when a dead whale beaches on the shore. What the residents find upon cutting the great creature open has impacts immediate and distant, incidental and (possibly) imagined. An albino man, naked, mute, stinking of fish, and — surprisingly — alive is excavated and dubbed Judah. Which brings us to the novel’s second epigram; I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea, says God, in an excerpt from Psalms. Perhaps Crummey is alluding to the Bible as first in the tradition of magical realism, developed thousands of years later by Marquez. Perhaps he is simply trying to foreground the religious themes of the work, like when Judah blots 7:5 onto a page with ink and sand (Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it, etc). But the question curious readers will have is whether or not Crummey does anything new and exciting with the magical-realism genre, and some may persecute his soul for aping such a stable of twentieth century fiction.
Like all good magically realistic works, the character list is long, sordid and intertwining. Thankfully, a prefatory family tree directs traffic. The main conflict is between the two most prominent families of Paradise Deep and The Gut — The Devines and The Sellers, surnames allegorical to just the right degree. Several characters tend to serve as the novel’s protagonist at one point or another, but the real prize for the reader is in actualizing the imaginative world created by the author.
Crummey’s portrait of Newfoundland, his hometown, smacks of emotional honesty. This thoroughly researched portrayal is rugged and real, deeply felt with touches of fancy that render this often unknown speck of North America intriguing. This setting is ultimately the real protagonist. Our emotion should be bound to this land. For the most part, Crummey achieves the link. Character and setting begin blending into one as the novel’s many personages interact, interbreed, and die over the course of two centuries. They then become part of the history of Paradise Deep and The Gut, or, as Crummey suggests, part of its myth.
It now seems fitting to finish the previously mentioned Psalms quote — let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honor in the dust. If Galore has one overarching narrative, it is the different ways in which Judah weaves himself in and out of the lives of the residents of Paradise Deep and The Gut over the span of two centuries. Will the new generation of residents regard the land for its fantastic and inexplicable heritage, and will they accept Judah’s place in this heritage despite its improbability?; or, will they succumb to the progress of normative influences like capitalism, and allow Judah to be swallowed up by the pages of an indifferent history? As the novel winds down, these questions mushroom, and the legacy of Paradise Deep and The Gut reaches off the page like a hand from some other time.
If this serves as a savory invitation to prospective readers, let it also serve as a warning. Galore is not a page-turner. It is not to be read in order to discover its next plot-point. Instead, it is to be absorbed and felt, read slowly and digested. Advancing through this novel is more akin to the elliptical paddling of a canoe’s oar, dipping in and out of the same ocean, the same stories acted by one generation and told by another. What “happens” in Galore is sometimes marvelous, sometimes overtly expository, and even downright tedious. But it is Crummey’s design, and it is one not dissimilar to the aforementioned works of the magical realism genre.
Crummey’s soon-to-be admirers will be dazzled by the sprawling and vivid vision of Newfoundland he paints, but others will not be able to get past the Marquez-ian cloud that looms over this work. But Crummey deserves to be read. With Galore, he has done enough satisfying innovation with a genre perhaps stale to justify his transformation from a regional writer into a true artist.
–Stephen Spencer lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He is pursuing his M.A. in English Literature at Brooklyn College and writes creatively in his spare time.