Monday, May 16, 2011

Review of Galore by Michael Crummey

Michael’s Crummey’s novel Galore takes place in a small Newfoundland fishing village called Paradise Deep and the surrounding coastal wilderness in the middle 1800s.  The trusty “stranger comes to town” scenario puts the story in motion when a man with white skin and hair, naked as a newborn baby, falls out of a beached whale the local fishermen have gutted.  The man is mute and reeks of fish forever after, but his is a mystical presence, responsible for healings and bountiful catches of fish.  More importantly, however, he is a pawn in the perpetual feud between the Devine and Sellers families.  He is a scapegoat who keeps the peace by offering himself up for his "newfound" family and friends.  The reader is taken through the many rites of life in and around Paradise Deep; we share with the inhabitants strange births, bizarre illnesses, forbidden loves, loveless marriages, and peaceless deaths.  Even figurative rebirths happen – patterns are played out generation after generation.  Time marches on, but human nature is unchanged.

Here is a list of things I liked about the novel:
  • Galore is magical realism at its best; the story delivers plenty of folklore, superstition, and just plain weirdness.  Galore is never dull because the characters' almost medieval adherence to superstition makes them unpredictable.
  • In spite of their brutishness due to ignorance and poverty, the characters are likeable and sympathetic.  You both love and hate them just as they love and hate each other.  Like life, the feelings are a mixed bag.  It’s the realistic part of the story.
  • The community had a ritualized way of demanding conformity without direct confrontation with people who had broken village mores.  At Christmastime, during the feast of the Epiphany, mummers went about in costume demanding food and drink at various houses.  A man dressed as a horse, aptly named Horse Chops, was led around the host’s house by the King mummer.  The King selected a particular person from the party and asked the all-knowing Horse Chops questions about the chosen one’s personal life.  No subject was taboo.  Horse Chops would answer yes or no to these questions in front of the whole party.  In one case, the mummers shamed a boy who carried a torch for his female cousin whom he could never marry.  In another case, they called out a gay man who was in love with his best friend.  It was a way for the community to say, “We know what you are, and we think you are hurting yourself and those around you.”  Everyone seemed to accept this informal trial.  Although the questioned parties were angry or embarrassed by Horse Chops, they held no grudges.  Sociologically, this was a fascinating means of depicting the closeness of the village. 
  • Galore is a family saga, and as a genealogy freak, I loved the family history aspect of the story.  It’s interesting how generations tie together, one generation’s behaviors affecting the next.  Mistakes and patterns are often repeated by sons and daughters because people rarely talk about the past.  Crummey writes in the first chapter of Mary Tryphena’s ignorance: “She felt she’d been delivered into a universe where everyone’s knowledge but hers was complete and there was no acceptable way to acquire information other than waiting for its uncertain arrival.”  This lack of communication between parents and children, elders and descendants, new comers and old timers occurs throughout – until someone lets information slip.  Sometimes the “loose lips” will be Horse Chops with his violation of secrets.  Sometimes it’s Obediah and Azariah Trim sharing the genealogy of Paradise Deep and the Gut with the American doctor.  At the end of Galore, it’s Esther, who, in her bouts of drunkenness with sickly Abel, unlocks the mysteries of his family.  Her sharing is an act so intimate in this culture, it becomes a seduction scene.
  • There really isn’t a plot, and surprisingly, it doesn’t matter.  Galore is a story like a fable or a folktale – it has bizarre characters, magical events, heroes and villains, moral lessons.  I kept asking myself, “With no plot, how can this end?”  Not to worry.  Crummey wrapped it up in a neat little package – it was elegant, a thing of beauty, a perfect full circle.  His characters often say, “Now the once” to mean either soon, a bit later, or some unspecified point in the future:  “As if it was all the same finally, as if time was a single moment endlessly circling on itself.” I don’t want to spoil it, but this timelessness and circuitry is the key to Galore's satisfactory conclusion.
There was nothing I disliked about Galore, but here are some things other readers may find problematic:
·    There are many characters to love, not just a main character.  If you like one hero or heroine, you may find reading about multiple generations confusing.  From time to time, I had to check the family tree at the front of the book to remember familial connections, but each character is so unique and so carefully crafted, you won’t confuse them. 
·    Crummey’s characters are sexual; everyone from a fourteen year-old child bride to two prepubescent boys playing naked in the pond to a renegade Catholic priest are having sex in this book, and it’s not spoken of in polite 19th century diction as you might expect.  Delicacy in any form would be out of character for these hardened people who were taught by Father Phelan that denying one’s appetites is an insult to God. It’s not just sex either; lots of times it’s vindictive hate sex.  Nothing in this book is what it seems.  Love and hate, fear and respect all combine in a confusing net of repressed emotion – it's a chowder pot of passion and resentment threatening to boil over.
·    Crummey doesn’t use quotation marks, and in many cases he doesn’t even use complete sentences.  It didn’t trip me up because it seemed fitting for a culture unskilled in words and loath to communicate.  They are a people whose speech is truncated and curt.  Language is a blunt tool only to be used when necessary.  Jude Devine never speaks, Absalom and Henley stutter.  Esther and Abel lose their voices when they go abroad.  Levi has a stroke and slurs his speech.  The village as a whole has no “voice” in the larger world, and the inhabitants are captive to its political and economic whims.  Crummey breaks grammatical rules in service to the story. 
·    Although the narrative moves through time from about the middle 1800s to WWI, there is some going back and forth from past to present which hinges on the arrival of Judah.  Judah is like Faraday’s constant on the show LOST.  He is the common thread from beginning to end.  Also, some characters fill in backstory and regale the reader with community legend and lore.  These sections are neatly layered into the narrative, and the reminiscences into the past never seem artificial or out of place.

I could spout on and on about how much I loved this book, but if you are like me, you don’t trust gushy reviews.  All I can say is that Galore is original.  It’s well-crafted.  The word choices, the use of grammar, the symbols, the dialect, the social behaviors – every piece of the story has a reason for being as it is.  It’s one of the best books I've read this year, and it deserves readers galore.


  1. Um, I LOVE Magical Realism and Family Sagas. I also love quotation marks, but maybe I will just have to get over this...

  2. Hey BAMB. Galore is a fishy, stinky boyfriend, but he's a "great catch", nonetheless!