Culture & Conversation

Now The Once

The come-from-away doctor in a Newfoundland hamlet finds this “the oddest expression he’d learned on the shore. Now the once. The present twined with the past to mean soon, a bit later… As if it was all the same finally, as if time was a single moment circling endlessly on itself.” In Michael Crummey’s Galore, the circle is one of last things: the last child baptized through the gnarled branches of an apple tree; the last Devine to bear the stench of the ancestor born from a whale’s belly; the words spoken ritually in case they may be the last words. The wheel is spun deftly by Crummey, one whirl for the past, one to approach the present.

This mythic novel opens with the fishy arrival of Judah. Pulled from the belly of a beached whale, the man is mute, white, and reeks of the ocean. He is also good for the fishing, and the people of Paradise Deep come to soak up his luck, albeit at an olfactorily safe distance.

Paradise Deep is a place of black spells and perceived curses, starved winter, omniscient mummers. Introductions, reunions and run-of-the-mill rotguttings turn back to the family tree “as if it were a list of symptoms.”

There is the Devine clan. There are triplets among whom the deadpan Crummey distributes one pair of shoes and one Christian name. Eli, who eventually enters into an affair with William Coaker, the real-life founder of the Fishermen’s Protective Union. The worldly Esther, returned to Paradise Deep with her voice and liver in shambles.

There are the Galleries—Mr. is dead but sticks around, ghostly enraged as Mrs. shacks up with the priest. And King-Me Sellers, local shopkeeper and father of Mary Tryphena Devine’s mother Lizzie, begetter of the begetters of Absalom the stutterer, who is in hopeless love with Mary Tryphena and who in turn begets the perniciously greedy Levi, who bleeds the community dry…

You’ll need a chart; thankfully, a chart there is.

The novel conveys the rhythm of the place, with “rinding lungers for wharves and stages” and all the rest of it the land-locked likes of me will never know by taste nor texture, but Galore is not regionalistic. The lilt is Crummey’s own craft, his elisions and abridgements true to what doesn’t need to be said. Galore is broader than Newfoundland, capturing the defiant logic of human settlement, and our defining nostalgia, as if we could be explained by the dead in our lives, their stories.

Galore is a thunderous, tender bite of a book. Politics, mercantilism and even the Methodists eventually come to Paradise Deep; the manned sealery is replaced by corporations; children come to be shod.  And always love, the fellow you look at a bit too long and your eyes snag on like fish hooks, and you are enfolded by your destiny, the seine of the night sky’s pulse of long-before-you, long-after-you light. The present circles around, means the novel’s over. We’ll have to reread, wait for the next Crummey coup.

Galore is nominated for the Governor General’s Award Literary Award; winners will be announced on November 17, 2009.

To her great woe, Katia Grubisic has been in Newfoundland only (the) once. Best blizzard ever.

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