The Wreckage

crummeyAfter loving Michael Crummey’s recent novels, Galore and Sweetland, I wanted to read some of his earlier stuff. Crummey is Canadian, born in Newfoundland which is the setting for most (all?) of his books. You don’t find much of Crummey’s work here in Houston, so when the husband was on a business trip to Canada I requested that he spend a moment or two of his free time in a bookstore instead of a beer bar and he brought me back The Wreckage. This is his second novel, though Crummey began his career trying to make money writing poetry. I’d also love to read of one of his poetry collections some day.

In The Wreckage, Crummey again paints a vivid picture of Newfoundland and its small fishing villages. The year is 1940 and Wish (Catholic, orphaned, and a bit of a drifter) falls in love with Mercedes (Protestant, from a close family, willful) when he comes to her town with a traveling motion picture show. Her family forbids the relationship and Wish leaves town to join the army. Mercedes (Sadie) cuts ties with her family, moves into St John’s, and vows to wait for Wish. The book then starts shifting between the war in the Pacific, where Wish ends up in a POW camp near Nagasaki, and Sadie’s life back in Canada.

Part of what I loved about the book is that the characters are not completely, fully drawn out. As a reader I felt that I did not understand them completely, but I wanted to keep reading and keep deepening my relationship with them. Much as Wish and Sadie didn’t really even know each other before he left. And it’s not just the two protagonists, there is a cast of secondary characters who are drawn with just the right amount of detail, not too little to have them seem superficial, but just enough so that they grew on me, much as they became more important to Wish and Sadie.

The title is a synonym for consequences. Everything that happens leaves some sort of wreckage in its wake. Here is one of my favorite passages:

There was a sickening sense of inevitability to the rain of incident and circumstance when Wish looked back on it. He started to feel that even the subtlest shift – if he’d woken earlier on the day he first saw Mercedes, if he’d drunk one beer more or less in the Halifax bar – even the most inconsequential change would have been enough to alter the chain of events and his life now would be completely different. God’s hand was there in the detail, Lilly always said, turning you left or right. And there was some vague comfort in thinking God was to blame.

I give this one a strong thumbs up, but I have to say I think Crummey’s getting better with each novel he writes. In other words, I can’t wait for his next one.

P.S. Thanks to the 7 of you loyal readers who suggested tasks for my reading challenge. It’s not too late for the rest of you to tell me what to read, but the deadline is fast approaching. I’m going to expand my crowd sourcing platform to twitter right after I finish writing this. Surely I can get at least three more tasks before midnight. A more complete update on the reading challenge to come next week.

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