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Flesh and Blood

by Michael Crummey

Poet Michael Crummey’s first collection of short stories, Flesh and Blood, is a mixture of the magical and the mundane, the extraordinary and the everyday. Crummey casts his storytelling net into the depths of small-town Newfoundland and comes up with characters whose lives are equal parts reality and myth. They drown and come back to life, foresee the futures of others, find their true loves in blinding snowstorms, and receive visitations from angels in their dreams. All the while the men work in the mines of Black Rock, the women endure the numbing and thankless routine of housewives, and the children simply try to make sense of the world into which they’ve been dragged.

Yet the lives of these characters aren’t irrevocably changed for the better by the miraculous happenings that befall them. Instead, these moments become metaphors for the characters’ futures, summing up their lives rather than transforming them. The man lost in the snowstorm continues to be emotionally lost to his family afterward, the boy who drowns underneath the ice and is then revived continues to feel an “opaque barricade between himself and his life,” and the woman who sees the future becomes trapped by the inevitability of her life.

The central focus of the collection is the mine around which Black Rock has been built. Crummey uses the mine both as the centre of the community – most of them depend on it for their livelihood – and as a metaphor to explore the slow deterioration of that community. Huge voids are revealed under the surface lives of the characters. Relationships are emptied of meaning and compassion until they collapse, an emotional disintegration that is mirrored in the physical realm in one of the stories by the town’s actual collapse into an empty mine shaft.

This is not a world without any redeeming grace, however. Crummey’s rich language runs through these stories like a vein of precious metal. A bleak landscape is transformed into “threads of coloured wool sewn haphazardly into a black sweater,” the geography of a strange island becomes “the unfamiliar shape of another life,” and a woman’s enthusiasm for life is as fragile as “blown glass.” The everyday world is transformed here, from a desolate and hard place into a fragile magical one. And just as the mining of the land mirrors the deterioration of the characters, the language of the stories echoes what the characters desire most: love, faith, hope. They are desires as intangible as words themselves, and as far away from fulfillment as the characters are from their loved ones buried in the collapsed mine shafts beneath them.