The scarcely populated town of Sweetland rests on the shore of a remote Canadian island. Its slow decline finally reaches a head when the mainland government offers each islander a generous resettlement package - the sole stipulation being that everyone must leave. Fierce and enigmatic Moses Sweetland, whose ancestors founded the village, is the only one to refuse. As he watches his neighbors abandon the island, he recalls the town's rugged history and its eccentric cast of characters. Evoking The Shipping News, Michael Crummey - one of Canada's finest novelists - conjures up the mythical, sublime world of Sweetland's past amid a storm-battered landscape haunted by local lore. As in his critically acclaimed novel Galore, Crummey masterfully weaves together past and present, creating in Sweetland a spectacular portrait of one man's battle to survive as his environment vanishes around him.
"Crummey lovingly carves out the privation and inner intricacies that mark his characters' lives with folkloric embellishments and the precision of the finest scrimshaw." (Publishers Weekly)
"Narrator John Lee's deep voice and rhythmic intonation are perfect for this beautiful novel.... Sweetland is a spectacular meld of story and performance." (AudioFile)
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Excellent story but...
I lived in this area for a few years and grew up close by so I recognized the language, the mindset and am familiar with the gov't's efforts to move these isolated villages to the mainland. Crummy captures all of this very well. I was transfixed by this story of one man being left behind and the slow, meaningful unraveling of his life story.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx, offers another view of small town Newfoundland and the very unique characters such a place produces.
I usually enjoy David Lee's narration but he was the wrong choice for this book. Why use a British narrator when there are so many very capable one's from Newfoundland? Most actors from eastern Canada can also do a great imitation of this singsong, lyrical accent.The Newfoundland accent is truly delightful and is a major character of this story. Mr. Lee doesn't even pronounce "Newfoundland" like a local and many of other things were pronounced so wrong that I had to play them over and over before it dawned on me what he was saying. Truly a missed opportunity by the producer of this audio book.
The story was engrossing but the narration was distracting.
I wish I had read this book, because I would've heard the accent correctly in my head. Listening to this version was distracting because the diction was so off.
- Chris Wells "nuke chick"
A Beautiful Downer of a Book
I can’t deny the skill of this, but it is unrelentingly depressing. Moses Sweetland is the last holdout as the Canadian government wants to offer a collective resettlement package to the residents of a small and dying island community. As he confronts the inexorable fact of his situation, he explores old grudges, disappointments and disasters. The place is rich in history, but it’s a small, local history. And Moses, the keeper of those memories (almost literally so since he was the longtime lighthouse keeper) has almost no one to leave them to.
I couldn’t have chosen a more affecting time to read this, since I got to a big chunk of it on a return to my hometown for a visit to my dementia-suffering mother. It was too easy to see the town of Sweetland as a reflection of my own town, where the only friends I have left are in their late 80s and the only stories we have are the old ones. I felt my own home slipping away, and reading this was an echo of that feeling.
This novel holds up pretty well throughout, sustaining its difficult story and sustaining its depressing valedictory tone. But it is one awful moment after another, all woven together in a manner that reflects the nets many of the island’s fishermen once used. Moses is a stubborn and compelling figure, but his grudging love for a great-nephew afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome is quietly beautiful.
I’ll caution that this gradually comes to rely on an unreliable narrator. That gets confusing, and sometimes frustrating, but it does feel right since, as Moses’s situation disintegrates, so does much of his capacity to keep his own mind together.
I admire this more than I can recommend it. Reading it did bring the gift of seeing my old home town in the light of its own sunset, but know going in that it’s a beautiful downer of a book.
- Joe Kraus