I come from a small coastal fishing community, so a lot of the themes in Michael Crummey’s Galore resonated pretty strongly. Isolation, insulation, privation, these are memes shared by all remote communities who sell what they catch, wind up eating it if they can’t sell it, and starve if they don’t catch anything. And they always yearn after the plenty of fishing seasons past:
They spoke of the days of plenty with a wistful exaggeration, as if it was an ancient time they knew only through stories generations old. My Jesus, the cod, the cod, the cod, that Crusade army of the North Atlantic, that irresistible undersea current of flesh, there was fish in galore one time. Boats run aground on a school swarming so thick beneath them a man could walk upon the very water but for fear of losing his shoes to the indiscriminate appetite of the fish.
The cod has largely moved on at the beginning of this story, and then myth moves in in the person of Judah called the Great White, a man cast up from the belly of a whale. Mute, the mark of the devil on him in the paleness of his skin and the rank fish smell of his person, he has nevertheless the gift for finding the fish, and does so, bringing prosperity and plenty, at least for a while. There are mermaids and ghosts, too, and I would argue that the very landscape itself is at least in part fantastical in its appearance and its sense of self. Further, you don’t really know what decade or even what century it is until halfway through the book. This is a place existing out of time, and in every time.
Of course, as time passes and the modern world encroaches on the lives of the characters, bit by bit the magic goes away. I was at first put off by the novel’s ending because it seemed just too neat. But I’ve been thinking it over since, and really, don’t all myths end where they begin? Doesn’t the snake always eat its own tail?
Some grad student should write his or her master’s thesis on a comparison of Michael Crummey’s Galore and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. And then let me read it.