Reviewed: The Innocents by Michael Crummey
by Denise Flint The Innocentsâ¨Michael Crummey Doubleday Canada $32.95 (hardcover) Michael Crummeyâs latest novel, The Innocents, is the story of 11-year-old Evered and his younger sister, Ada, living alone together in a small cove somewhere on the Newfoundland coast sometime in the past. It begins with the death of their newborn baby sister, their mother and their father, and continues as the children grow to maturity with only each other to rely on. Hardship doesnât begin to describe what the children go through. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part, though, is that they expect nothing else. Life is hard. Thatâs all they know. It doesnât seem to occur to them that others elsewhere live completely different lives. Fortunately for them, help always seems to arrive just when things are at their most desperate, giving the children both another shot at making it through the next winter and a glimpse of the outside world they donât really seem to believe exists. Crummeyâs use of language makes for a very nuanced read as he juxtaposes words in the most interesting manner. Articles and events are described by the words Evered and Ada would have used, yet the children themselves and their situation are described with words and a sophisticated scrutiny they would never have encountered or understood. Thus, in one scene the narrator describes Everedâs hands as atonic, whilst Evered sees them as palsied. Some of the events are described so graphically itâs hard to read the words. The Innocents is not a book for readers with weak stomachs or sensitivity to animal suffering. Q& A with the Author Denise Flint: When did you know you were a writer? Michael Crummey: Well thatâs a tough question; I still donât know. My impression is that every writer feels exactly the same way. Itâs something you have to prove to yourself every single day. It doesnât matter how much or what youâve written, the self-doubt is pretty much a given. It just feels like itâs endemic to the writing community, that fraud syndrome - any day someone is going to let you know that theyâre on to you - because your goals and ambitions always outstrip what youâre capable of. DF: This is a pretty grim story. Do you find it jarring to get up from the computer every day and return to your modern comfortable life that provides everything you need or want? MC: No, not really. Iâve been at this long enough to separate those worlds. Iâve always been amazed by the way some people were forced to live their lives and Iâve always felt absolutely lucky to be born into the life I live. I remember Dad talking about fishing down on the Labrador in the â30s and â40s, and looking at me and telling me I never would have managed it. He meant I was born into different circumstances. I think that is part of the story of those two children. At the same time they are human beings who are interested in survival, but theyâre also interested in beauty and joy and they feel like their lives are worth living. DF: What does your writing day look like? MC: It really depends on what Iâm working on, but for a novel I try to treat it like a job, and for the last three novels the way Iâve gone about making sure I get something done [is] every day I set a word limit. I make myself write at least 500 words a day. Even if I delete 400 words the next day, I still have 100 I wouldnât have had. I do it in the morning usually and do other things in the afternoon. But there are days Iâm at it in the afternoon and evening as well if itâs going really well or really badly. DF: What advice can you give writers just starting out? MC: I think the only real advice I have is to read as much and as widely as possible. I think reading is the only real way to know what makes a book work and how sentences and stories are put together. I donât think itâs possible to be a good writer unless youâre a reader first. DF: I know this is like asking someone about their children, but which is yourfavourite of all the books youâve written? MC: Galore. I think that was the most fun Iâve ever had writing. I just couldnât wait to get up every day. I went to bed thinking about the book and I woke up thinking about it. I felt completely free writing that book, and in many ways I felt at the time that was the book I was meant to write and had been working towards for 30 years. I went through a really bad time afterwards and I didnât understand why. It took months to figure out I was just missing the book. I have a full life, but Iâd wake up and feel like I had no reason to get out of bed. Once if figured out what was at the heart of it, it was fairly easy to get past. DF: Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? MC: Poetry is more pleasurable. I would say itâs a meditative experience and it doesnât exhaust me, whereas writing fiction feels like physically demanding work. It takes a lot out of me. But thereâs something about writing novels that has a challenge to it thatâs unlike anything Iâve ever done, and that part of writing prose I really love.