In the annals of memorable family feuds, the Devines and the Sellerses deserve to be added to the Capulets and the Montagues and the Hatfields and McCoys. Treachery, longing, revenge – the only thing their more famous counterparts have that they don't: better weather.
Oh, Romeo and Juliet may have had angst and thwarted love, but they didn't have to live out their tragedy in a frozen, unforgiving landscape, where farmland is so scarce you could get beaten up for stealing a sack of dirt. Miserable in Italy? Pshaw.
The Newfoundland families at the heart of Michael Crummey's award-winning third novel, Galore (Other Press, 352 pp.), can survive on nothing but potatoes and salt, and they're so tough that a teenage girl insists on getting all her teeth pulled, so she doesn't have to worry about them later. Suicide is for wimps. The Devines and the Sellerses (do note the symbolism in the last names) prefer to plot and scheme and poison their grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's futures.
“Galore” opens when a man is pulled from the belly of a beached whale. He's mute, white-haired, and smells disgusting, but he's alive. Judah, as the locals of the isolated fishing villages of Gut and Paradise Deep christen him, takes up residence at the home of the local witch, the Widow Devine, who once refused the proposal of local fishing tycoon King-me Sellers, when she was his servant. There was cursing, cows that wouldn't give milk, and later charges regarding poison. Her son married his daughter, but that did nothing to heal the rift between the two clans.
Judah never does say a word (or smell any better), but, with him aboard the Devine boat, the residents of Paradise Deep have the best fishing season in memory, filling ships with squid in a scene reminiscent of the New Testament. When Judah gets in trouble with Sellers and the English Army, the Widow marries him off to her only granddaughter, extricating him from trouble, but ensuring that the generational infighting will continue into the 20th century.
Crummey won the Commonwealth Writers' prize, as well as several other awards, for his intricately carved epic, which was published in Canada in 2009 and has been compared to Gabriel García Márquez's “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (minus the rainforest and tropical temperatures).
As in the works of Márquez, the supernatural crops up matter-of-factly in Paradise Deep, where a ghost's boots can put a hole through a ceiling. (Frankly, the locals are too busy trying to survive to marvel at or be spooked by anything out of the ordinary.) There's also something Faulknerian in Crummey's small-town myth-crafting, with echoes of biblical passages from the obvious – Jonah and the whale – to a variant of Jacob and Esau that eliminates the brotherly hug at the end. (Happy reunions aren't really a staple in Paradise Deep.) When a lay preacher tells the story of Abraham and Isaac, explaining that God saved Isaac at the last minute, a resident is skeptical: “ 'That don't sound like the God we know out here,' he said.”
Readers who like their literary bleakness flash-frozen will find pleasures “Galore.”