Michael Crummey | The AdversaryReviewed by: Stewart Goodings
Seven years ago, Michael Crummey came to the Denman Festival from his home in Newfoundland to read from his best-seller of 2015, “Sweetland”. On January 6th, at the Community Hall, he’ll present his latest historical fiction “The Adversary”.
Crummey specializes in quirky character-filled tales from Newfoundland’s rich history. This one, set in a small fishing village called Mockbeggar, takes place in the 18th century and features three main characters: Abe Strapp, The Widow Caines, and The Beadle. All are odious, scheming, amoral and thoroughly memorable. They are ‘adversaries’ in this tiny community, finding fault with each other, plotting revenge, and all are deeply self-centred. Appealing villains all. Crummey’s set of minor characters are all worthy of their own stories and he draws their personalities superbly, with elegant language as well as a smattering of Newfoundland phrases appropriate to the era. Crummey is a renowned poet too, and it’s always a pleasure to be enchanted by his writing.
Abe and the Widow are brother and sister who hate each other. They head competing fishing enterprises and each have their acolytes and sworn enemies. Crummey draws the reader into the long ago world of a remote fishing community whose leaders behave in cruel and corrupt ways—behaviour that is perhaps reminiscent of some of today’s leading political figures. But his affection for, and curiosity about the characters he has created elevate “The Adversary” to an epic story which will appeal to all readers.
The elements play a big part in Crummey’s novels: ruthless storms, roving icebergs, bitter winters, and so does religion, with the Church of England, the Quakers and the Catholics all striving to maintain their hold on local residents and to expand their influence. It’s a tough life in these small outports, but music and dance and booze all combine to bring relief and occasional joy to the hard-scrabble lives of their residents.
“The Adversary” is a worthy successor to his earlier six novels. Denman is lucky to have this remarkable writer back on the island on January 6. Tickets are on sale at Abraxas, and on the Readers and Writers Festival website: www.denmanislandwritersfestival.com