From the author of the best-selling, Giller-nominated River Thieves comes a heartbreaking and masterful collection of short fiction.
With uncommon elegance and compassion, Michael Crummey has created a community of exiles, characters estranged from their home, from their families or, just as often, from themselves. Set largely in the small Newfoundland mining town of Black Rock, but straying as far west as Vancouver and as far east as China, these stories are subtle, stark portrayals of people alternately looking for or trying desperately to escape their place in the world.
A young boy confuses love and allegiance, then stumbles into the complexities of adulthood; a brother and sister fall in love with the same woman; a frustrated wife protests her husband’s neglect by going on strike with the miners’ union; a lover’s drug habit reunites a woman with the sister she has lost.
Anchor Books is proud to publish an expanded edition of Michael Crummey’s brilliant collection Flesh and Blood, which includes three original stories written just for this edition. Graceful, affecting, and generous of spirit, these stories are unforgettable.
About the author
Michael Crummey is the author of four books of poetry, and a book of short stories, Flesh and Blood. His first novel, River Thieves, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, his second, The Wreckage, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His most recent novel, the bestselling Galore, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book. Under the Keel is his first collection in a decade. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Excerpt: Flesh and Blood (by (author) Michael Crummey)
When my father was assigned a home by the Company and moved out of the bunkhouse, we carried our belongings by cart and boat from Twillingate across New World Island and down to Lewisporte where we caught the train for Black Rock. Fourteen hours in the single passenger car at the end of a line of empty ore boxes and most of that time in darkness, the clatter of the rails carrying us deeper into the island’s interior, into the unfamiliar shape of another life. I woke up just after first light as the train leaned into the half-mile turn of Tin Can Curve. Out the window I could see a rusty orange petticoat of abandoned scrap metal poking through the white shawl of snow at the foot of the rail bed. Twenty minutes later we crossed a trestle and chuffed into town. My father met us at the red warehouse that served as a train station, his lean face dwarfed by a fur hat, his grin lop-sided, like a boat taking on water.
I’d never been away from Durrells before. Everything in this new place looked the same to my eyes. Streets as neat as garden furrows with rows of identical four unit buildings painted white or green or brown planted on either side. For the first three weeks after we arrived, my mother tied a kerchief to the door handle so my sister and I would be able to find our house in the line of uniform, indistinguishable quads.
Even my father got confused on one occasion, coming home from a card game at the bunkhouse. He’d been drinking and turned onto the street below ours, mistaking the third door in the second building for his own. Only a small lamp over the stove lighted the kitchen, the details of furniture and decoration were draped in darkness. He took off his shoes in the porch, hung his coat neatly on the wall and was about to have a seat at the kitchen table when Mrs. Neary walked in from the living room. “Can I get you a cup of tea?” she asked him.
He was too embarrassed to admit he’d made a mistake. “That would be grand, Missus,” he said. “I wouldn’t say no to a raisin bun if you had one to spare.”
“Carl,” Mrs. Neary shouted up at the ceiling. “We’ve got company.”
For years afterwards, my father dropped in on Mr. and Mrs. Neary for tea on Saturday evenings. My father and Mr. Neary hunted together, played long raucous poker games at the kitchen table with my Uncle Gerry.
My mother said that was just like him, to find his best friend that way—everything that ever happened to my father was a happy accident. She said it with just a hint of bitterness in her voice, enough that I could taste it, like a squeeze of lemon in a glass of milk.
When I turned thirteen, my father began taking me with him to check his rabbit slips on the other side of Company property. We’d set out before dawn, following the Mucky Ditch that carried mine tailings across the bog, the squelch of footsteps in wet ground the only sound between us. When we reached the tree line we struck off for the trails through the woods. My father grinned across at me in a way that he hoped was reassuring, but I didn’t understand why he invited me along or wanted me with him. Every winter he took twice as many brace of rabbit in the slips as Mr. Neary, for no reason but chance as far as anyone could see. Of ten hands of poker, my father won eight, sometimes nine. Mr. Neary swore never to play another game on more occasions than I could count. “That man,” he announced often and loudly, “has a horseshoe up his arse.”
My father smiled his lop-sided grin as he shuffled the cards. “One more before you go?” he asked.
It’s hard not to feel ambivalent about someone that lucky, and that casual about his good fortune. “How can you love a man,” I once overheard my mother confide to Mrs. Neary, “that you never feel sorry for?”
I wouldn’t have gone into the woods with my father at all if my mother hadn’t encouraged me, and it was mostly for her sake that I paid attention when he showed me how to tie the slips, and how to use boughs to narrow the run where the slip was set. He explained how a night of frost set them running to keep warm. He tied the paws of the dead rabbits together with twine. “Not that lucky for these little buggers,” he said lightly. I carried them over my shoulder, the bodies stiff as cordwood against my back.
Around noon we stopped to boil water for tea. “You’ve got a good head for the woods,” my father told me one Saturday. I suppose he was trying to soften me up a little. The enthusiasm in his voice suggested he’d just discovered something I had been hiding out of modesty. “Why don’t you see if you can find us a bit of dry stuff for the fire.”
I tramped off into the bush, annoyed with his irrepressible good humour, with his transparent praise. He had no right, I thought, and as I moved further into the spruce I decided not to go back, to keep walking. I wanted him to panic, to feel his world coming apart as he crashed through the woods yelling my name. I wanted him to feel the sadness my mother felt, the same sick regret. I kept my head down, not bothering to check my trail, working deeper into the green maze of forest. When I stopped to catch my breath I closed my eyes, turning three times in a circle before looking up. A light snow had started falling, stray flakes filtering through the branches of the spruce like aimless stars. I had no idea where I had come from, or where I was going. I was completely, perfectly lost.
“When you’ve found an author with the kind of power Crummey has, one of the first things to do is to head back to the bookstore looking for more.” — Atlantic Books Today
“Michael Crummey is a writer of enormous talent.” — Ottawa Citizen
Other titles by Michael Crummey
Most of What Follows is True
Places Imagined and Real
Ten Canadian Writers in Context
New and Selected Poems
Brick Books Classics 5
David Blackwood: Prints of Newfoundland
Under the Keel special hardcover edition