Cumberland, published by Cormorant Books in 2002, is Michael V. Smith's first novel,
short-listed for the
Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award.
Cumberland is a small town story about loss and longing.
Ernest is a millworker who finds himself without a job, or prospects
for one, at fifty-two. Bea is his girlfriend, a waitress at his
favourite pub. Her teenage housemate, Amanda,
meets Ernest's buddy Nick and falls for him on the tail of dumping
her boyfriend. Amanda baby-sits Nick's eight-year-old, Aaron,
who's intimidated by Fletcher, the neighbourhood bully.
Cumberland is a spare but moving story about love, and ultimately
hope, in lives limited by circumstance.
Set on the far edge of southeastern Ontario, Cumberland is a fictional
town losing its industries in the wake of the North American Free
Trade Agreement. The overlooked setting of a depressed industrial
landscape explores the changing economy of small town life. Cumberland
enters into CanLit as alive and telling and complex as Manawaka,
Jubilee or Mariposa.
The characters live a life of deflation and endurance, in their
contradictions and weaknesses, their subtle collapse and triumphs.
Ernest's secret life, Bea's willingness to settle for less, Amanda's
bold determination to win Nick over, and Aaron's torment at the
hands of Fletcher reveal a side to human nature rarely seen in fiction.
Cumberland is a fresh and candid exploration of desire, blurring
the lines of identity.
Longing for companionship and comfort, Bea, Aaron, Ernest and Amanda
satifsy their needs with what opportunity is available, despite
the social cost. In a small town such as Cumberland, as in any urban
centre, desire is liminal.
The ease with which the story is told, the straight-forwardness
in style and frank approach belies the depth of character and human
emotion held within the book¹s powerful moments. Written in
a plain language, with a seemless narrative clarity, Cumberland is resonant with simplicity.
The Globe and
Mail, Saturday 11-may-2002
Star, Sunday 28-apr-2002
The Ottawa Sun,
Xtra West, Thursday
The Georgia Straight,
Is there a review for Cumberland out there we missed? Please
let us know!!!
By BOBBI MACDONALD
wow! i know the author! i love that...
my friend Michael V. Smith wrote a book.
(is it wrong to plug a book when you're kind of biased? maybe. but it's
not wrong to plug a book when you're biased and it's a really good read.)
and Michael's first novel Cumberland is an engrossing tear-jerking (yes,
Michael, tear-jerking!) tale.
Cumberland is a fictional small town in somewheresville eastern ontario.
and Cumberland the novel is all about small town folk and how they relate
to people they see every day and how even though you can see people every
day, people have inner lives and pasts and really knowing someone takes
a bit more than hearing gossip or asking them how their day was.
there are officially four main characters in Michael's tale: Bea, Nick,
Ernest and Amanda. but actually i would like to submit that there are
actually five main characters, the fifth being Aaron, Nick's young son.
I could've read a whole book about Aaron alone, that's how much i loved
and believed in this character. that, in itself, is an achievement for
a writer; not everybody can relate to children, let alone write them believably.
and i think Aaron is actually a pretty pivotal character in the novel.
in my mind he kind of acts as a foil to his father, Nick. Nick's importance
as a character stems from what the other characters want to solve about
themselves or their lives though him: Ernest feels emotions he doesn't
understand yet yearns for around Nick, Amanda identifies Nick with a secure
adult world she longs to be a part of, and Bea sees him as the link between
her loneliness and the people she loves (her teenage roommate, Amanda
that she mothers and her troubled boyfriend, Ernest, that, come to think
of it, she also mothers. hmmmm) but Aaron's sad little heart sets off
the crumbling of the walls around his father and partially* as a result
of this the rest of the main characters are jolted into decisions and
realizations of their own.
*only partially because, so many other things happen in this novel!
this is a character driven novel about characters you come to know and
care about and plus, it's a page turner!
AND it's written by a friend of mine.
did you want more specifics about the plot? honestly, how could i do
that without giving away the good parts?
and there are many good parts.
~if you love books and reading: support new writers~
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The Globe and Mail
By JIM BARTLEY
Michael V. Smith sets his carefully crafted first novel
in a small city named Cumberland, on the St. Lawrence River. The town
hugs the North Shore opposite an island Mohawk community, with a bridge
to the United States funnelling traffic from Ottawa and Montreal, each
city roughly an hour away by car. We are unmistakably in a fictionalized
Cornwall, Ont., privy to the private hopes, guilty secrets and deep confusions
of a half-dozen intersecting working-class lives.
Bea is a waitress at Malouf's bar. Single, childless and over 40, she's
biding her time, still hoping for a love that might last. Earnest is a
regular customer at Malouf's, a lonely guy of 50 avoiding empty nights
at home with the TV. His wife left him years ago, following an incident
he refuses to discuss.
Amanda, fresh out of high school and underemployed, rents a room from
Bea. Rejecting the puerile demands of her boyfriend Alphie, she begins
flirting with one of Earnest's bar buddies, Nick, whose young son Aaron
is bounced between his widowed dad and the in-laws who sit with him several
nights a week while Nick drowns his grief at Malouf's.
Bea invites herself over to Earnest's one night and they end up having
sex on the couch. An ill-advised relationship begins. It emerges that
Earnest has a habit of cruising the riverside park after the bars close,
seeking quick sex with men. He's ashamed of these acts, avoiding the implications,
barely capable of putting a name to them.
We learn that Earnest is secretly in love; each anonymous encounter by
the river brings Nick's name involuntarily to his lips. One morning after
a late-night park session he crumples before his image in the bathroom
mirror: "It was daylight and he could see for himself what he had
Smith writes without a trace of flourish. His prose is simply, meticulously
expressive. He negotiates the freedoms of omniscient narrative with fluid
skill and psychological acuity, generating a steady (if sometimes wearing)
pathos for his characters.
Two major figures -- Earnest and the boy, Aaron -- find themselves in
acute (and unrelated) emotional crises arising from their shame over homosexual
acts. Smith reserves his final redemptive moment of human connection for
these two, man and boy, each with a queer secret, making it impossible
not to link this novel with the recent convulsions in Cornwall, lasting
years, over a falsely alleged "pedophile ring."
Cumberland offers probing understanding against the deep currents of
fear and ignorance that, sadly, still breed witch-hunts.
Jim Bartley is The Globe and Mail's first-fiction reviewer.
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The Toronto Star
By PHILIP MARCHAND
DOWN BY THE RIVER
There's redemption to be found even among the supposed losers
of faded Cumberland.
The title of Michael V. Smith's first novel, Cumberland,
is well chosen. Cumberland, a fictional, blue-collar town in eastern Ontario
it may be a stand-in for Cornwall is the real focus of the
A mill and factory town, Cumberland is beginning to show signs of the
same urban decay that has long ravaged industrial cities in upstate New
York, just across the river. Tattoo parlours and arcades have moved into
main streets where retailers once thrived. Soon after the novel begins,
one of the main characters, 52-year-old Ernest Mackey, loses his job when
his plant closes down. In what amounts to a brief digression into history
and politics, Mackey bitterly explains to a friend how his loss of a job
is directly related to NAFTA.
Mackey, whose emotional resources are slight to begin with, responds
to his plight by watching more television and increasing an already prodigious
intake of Labatt's Blue. In this respect, he seems a typical citizen of
Cumberland, where sex and drinking are the principal amusements, intact
families are a rarity, and the old church-going ethos of rural Ontario
a distant memory. It is fair to say that the cultural level of the novel's
milieu is rather low. "For the man who'll never read a book like
this," runs Smith's dedication, and certainly you can't imagine somebody
like Ernest cracking open a book. Of all the adult characters, the only
one who reads is Ernest's girlfriend, Bea. She's a waitress in a beer
parlour and favours romances.
As if to emphasize that the real protagonist of his novel is the municipality
of Cumberland, Smith constantly varies point of view between five main
characters. They include Ernest and Bea, Amanda, a 17-year-old high school
dropout and waitress in an Italian restaurant who rents a room from Bea,
Nick, a drinking buddy of Ernest's who is also a widower, and Aaron, his
8-year-old son. For all these characters, Cumberland seems a trap more
than a community.
"Ernest knew that if he were to move to a different town he'd be
lost," the novel states at one point. "He'd be without friends,
or anything familiar. There'd be nothing resembling his life ... Most
days out of the year he wouldn't admit the city owned him like that, but
inside himself, the feeling was fixed tight that he wasn't in control
of his life." Another character warns Amanda that if she wants "to
get out of this city," she's "got to have college." Her
choice is higher education, in other words, or a life like Ernest's. "It's
Cumberland," Ernest says to Bea, talking about the plant closing,
in much the same tone that a character near the end of the film Chinatown
tells Jack Nicholson: "It's Chinatown."
Ernest's thrall to Cumberland is all the more pathetic because he's pretty
well at the bottom of the local totem pole. For one thing, he lacks a
house and a car, the two major status symbols in Cumberland. At the beginning
of the novel he lives alone with his cat in a one-bedroom apartment. Bea
is slightly better off she rents a two-bedroom apartment
but has longed for a house for years. Amanda, too, feels cramped and depressed
by boarding with Bea, and wouldn't mind a nice house with a back yard.
As for cars, Smith's novel notes the correlation between the social position
of its characters and their vehicles with some precision. Ernest, as noted,
owns no car at all. His friend Figgy, older than Ernest and in much the
same plight, drives a beat-up Datsun. Bea owns a down-market, cheap and
cheerful LeCar. Nick, on the other hand, who seems to be reliably employed
and in control of his life, possesses a Range Rover with four-wheel drive.
Amanda, who has a crush on Nick, enjoys taunting her boyfriend Alphie
poor Alphie drives a Chevy he has pretentiously dubbed "SupeMachine"
with Nick's Range Rover.
All this is not to say that the characters are driven by purely material
goals. Like the rest of us, they are desperate for love, which they sometimes
confuse with sexual gymnastics. Ernest, partly as a relief from the horrible
burden of his Dark Secret, cruises a local park popular with Cumberland
gays, and entertains, like Amanda, a certain yen for Nick. ("If only
they could hold each other and feel better, Ernest thought ...")
His girlfriend Bea realizes Ernest is not wildly in love with her, but
regards him as better than nothing and finds his caresses at least a temporary
relief for her inner emptiness. Amanda wants "to feel loved and have
someone hold her again and tell her things would be all right."
Perhaps the most desperate character is young Aaron, who has lost his
mother and now feels that "nobody cared about him anymore."
That's a self-pitying and childish sentiment, but of course Aaron is a
child. He also has good reason for feeling abandoned his dad spends
every evening since his wife's death at the pub. Aaron's helplessness,
unfortunately, is mirrored by the grown-ups around him. None seem like
real adults, and it's no wonder they offer very little help to a boy like
At the end, the five major characters do manage, in therapeutic fashion,
to express their feelings towards each other. Ernest finally unburdens
himself of his Dark Secret. Nick sets Amanda straight. What's more, Amanda
actually realizes her crush on Nick is misguided. Aaron storms at his
father, and amid a flood of tears and embraces, the two bond anew.
This is what passes for a happy ending in a contemporary novel, but it's
reminiscent of the "bad movies where everyone cries and hugs each
other at the end" that Amanda despises. That reference might lead
a reader to suspect some slyness on the author's part, but the novel's
finale is too close in spirit to these bad movies to allow for any irony.
Much more convincing are certain touches that suggest the author, a Cornwall
native, knows his terrain well. Writing of a campground frequented by
the young, and the excitement of a weekend night there, he has Amanda
observe that fights always break out. "Two men punching at each other
was exciting, but never lasted as long and didn't seem as wicked as two
girls going at it. And people would pair up. At the beginning of a night
you never knew who would fight whom, or who would screw, or when any of
it might happen."
I wish there was more of this in the novel. Smith clearly has a feeling
for the world his characters inhabit, but the characters themselves always
seem about 20 per cent short of real. The author tries to coax them into
life with meticulous detail about the way they use their cigarette lighters
or make their coffee he also reports faithfully on the state of
their bladders but this technique more often than not simply gums
up the narrative. Writing about Ernest waking up, for example, he notes,
"But this morning, with the sun pouring in around the sides of his
blinds, Ernest pulled himself out of bed, pissed in the toilet and splashed
his face with water from the tap in the bathroom sink."
Under the circumstances, we can assume the water Ernest splashes his
face with will come from the tap in the bathroom sink. And where else,
we may ask, is hegoing to urinate but in the toilet?
Star literary critic Philip Marchand appears weekly.
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The Vancouver Sun
By ROBERT J. WIERSEMA
Vancouver writer Michael V. Smith is experiencing the sort
of Cinderella story of which every first-time author dreams. The un-agented
manuscript for his debut novel, Cumberland, languished in the slush pile
at Cormorant Books, one of Canada's foremost small literary houses, for
almost two years. Hardly unusual: Most unsolicited manuscripts are returned
to sender unread. (The receipt of generic rejection letters is a rite
of passage which many writers, unfortunately, never outgrow.)
What sets Cumberland apart from most unsolicited novels
is that it got read after all that time, with the publisher describing
the experience as "a late-night discovery." The novel is being
released this week.
It's easy to see what impressed the readers at Cormorant.
Smith, a graduate of the University of B.C.'s creative writing program,
has a keen command of small-town life. (The titular community is a fictional
treatment of Cornwall, Ont.) He skillfully captures the close emotional
ties between those who live in the industrial town, facing the closure
of its mills and factories in the wake of NAFTA, and he demonstrates a
keen awareness of the rhythms of economic downturn and alcoholism.
Cumberland is propelled not by plot but by the interactions
and relationships among its characters over the course of a spring and
summer. The focus shifts among them in a confident, clear manner that
is never distracting or hard to follow.
The central character is Ernest, a millworker in his 50s
who is laid off when the mill is closed. A loner and a drinker, he is
haunted by the death of his young son years before. He moves from bar
to bar, and town to town, when he finds people getting too close to him.
Early in the novel, he enters into a relationship with Bea,
a waitress at his current pub of choice. He also has a secret compulsion
that finds him drunkenly wandering the docks and parks, finding intimacy
in furtive encounters with other men. He finds himself attracted to Nick,
a drinking buddy in his 30s who is raising a young son alone. Bea's roomate,
Amanda, a teenage firl on the run from an unpleasant home life, also finds
herself attracted to Nick.
Smith is able to dodge the soap-opera possibilities this
summary represents, thanks to his considerable skill at character development.
Ernest, in particular, is presented as heartbreakingly human. His simultaneous
loneliness and fear of intimacy, his confusion over his sexuality and
the lingering guilt over the death of his son are treated empathically
and without histrionics.
Most of the other characters are developed with the same
tender care. Only Nick is less than compelling; he seems bland and pallid,
even in comparison to the emotional complexity of his son, Aaron. Perhaps
there is a thematic purpose to this treatment - e.g. Nick as the object
of both Ernest's and Amanda's desires, rather than as a full-blooded character
in his own right. But one wonders throughout what either of them sees
Despite the compelling characterization and Smith's command
of scene and structure, the closing section of Cumberland disappoints.
After being guided through many pages by realistic characters and their
reactions, it's jarring for the reader to find the hand of the creator
weighing heavily on the novel in its final pages.
Smith leaves no strands dangling, no plot point unresolved.
"Happy endings all around and damn the machinations" seems to
have been the order of the day, and readers may end up feeling more frustrated
by the obviousness of Smith's constructions than pleased for the characters
they've come to know so intimately.
It's unfortunate that Smith spent so much time and skill
creating the illusion of life in Cumberland only to sacrifice it to a
perceived need for closure and a happy ending. Life just isn't like that.
Victoria writer and bookseller Robert J. Wiersma is a
frequent contributor to Mix.
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By BRETT JOSEF GRUBISIC
Q: Where can Michal V Smith be found?
(a) walking (in Stanley Park, in heels and a tennis skirt);
(b) working (downtown, at a university bookstore);
(c) writing (at home, on poetry, fiction or screenplay);
(d) standing (onstage, at the Dufferin, presiding over cultural mayhep);
(e) all of the above.
Anyone having even a brief acquaintance with Michael V Smith -arguably
Vancouver's busiest writer/performer/bonvivant- knows the answer to the
above question is (e).
In addition to his day job with the regular pay cheque, Smith produces
his own zine ("It's called Cruising, and it's a public sex mag. It
think of it as a public service. It's an anthropological look at the culture
of gay sex"); organizes and hosts a bi-monthly, like no-other, literary
experience called Skank at the Dufferin where he dresses as Miss Cookie
LaWhore; and regularly appears at author readings and festivals. Oh, and
in his spare time he writes (and, more impressive still, publishes) poetry,
screenplays and fiction.
His latest accomplishment is a novel, Cumberland.
Smiths debut novel is a surprise insofar as it does not meet expectations:
no drag fabulousness, no hip urban life, no Wildean wit. Instead, its
a somber meditation on a quartet of unhappy heterosexual lives in a recession-prone
Ontario mill town.
Standing within a long-established tradition of realist Canadian literature
(aka bleak rural existence), Cumberland examines in exacting detail the
interactions of characters all weighted down by personal loss, loneliness
and disappointment. At the centre of the novel stands Ernest, a divorced
guy who douses his problems with beer and takes occasional anonymous pleasures
with other men at night in a riverside park.
The novel takes its name after a street in Smiths hometown, Cornwall
(pop 46,000), a place lately notorious as the epicenter for allegations
of a vast pederast conspiracy; Smith left there after high school, moved
to Toronto for an undergrad in English and drama studies, and then came
west to UBCs MFA program (creative writing), his graduating project
a screenplay called Screwed.
Hewrote and revised Cumberland for years. "I started Cumberland
in 96, because I wanted to be a novelist, and thought, Getgoing,
sweetheart,'" he says. Good thing, because it took nearly six
make it to the stands. I was 25 when I started this. Im 31 now.
I had no idea it would take so long.
Cumberland works with and against the grain of two literary traditions.
Smith explains: So much Canadiana gets written without ever mentioning
the stuff I saw when I lived in a small town. And most of gay fiction
is either urban and out, or coming-of-age. I think Cumberland is an unusual
book for that reason. It doesnt talk about a gay lifestyle, being
theres no gay-identified character, and its not totally straight
either, because theres gay sex going on. Im not discovering
some new type of person, its just that their private lives include
material that we haven't discussed before.
If Cumberland avoids capturing the conventional coming out and the migration
to urban community, Smith remarks hes still intrigued by queer untold
tales. Why would I write a coming out story when there are so many
coming out stories already? Im far more interested in what doesnt
get discussed. Thats part of being a fag for me. I talk about what
makes people uncomfortable. I talk about what makes me uncomfortable.
I think were always coming out. A healthy developing culture is
always admitting to its fears and oddities, because thats how we
grow, and learn, and find comfort in each other. ... I think thats
true of a lot of our experience. Shame and fear keep us isolated. Confession
and a willingness to be vulnerable create intimacy. Cumberland explores
those ideas, and, I hope, embodies them.
Responding to surprise at his novels topic and setting, Smith explains
that they reside at his core. I didnt set out to write this
particular novel, he explains. I sat down and started writing
and this is what came of that. Mill-working, park-sex-going Ernest came
out of me. That said, I am very interested in the politics of a guy like
Ernest. Im interested in the men who have sex with other men but
dont identify as gay, and dont ever come out, and who, for
all appearances and lifestyle and self-identity are straight. Ernest is
straight, though he has sex with men.
He also characterizes the novel as a filtering of experiences from his
own past. People mostly read me as the person Ive grown into.
They dont see the life I had, that informed me, that made me who
I am. I am every character in that book. I lived those lives, I grew up
alongside them. I come from that lifestyle; my family is still living
Now pulling together a poetry volume and editing a Skank anthology (with
Billeh Nlckerson) Smith has no intention of slowing his sexual fieldwork.
There are so many things that were afraid to talk about as
a culture, and say, If so many people are doing it, why not discuss it?
I hid my sexuality for 17 years and it was painful, stressful,
and boring. Now that Im out, if Im not going to hide who Im
attracted to, why hide what I want to do? Why do we hide our desires?
How are our needs going to be met if we secret them away?
Michael V Smiths column, Miss Cookies Guide to a Good
Time begins in Xtra West next month.
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The Georgia Straight
By BERT ARCHER
By Michael V. Smith. Cormorant Books, 296 pp, $22.95, softcover.
Vancouver writer Michael V. Smith, aka Miss Cookie LaWhore, has finally
found a decent editor. After lacklustre performances in the anthologies
Quickies (1998) and Carnal Nation (2000), and a banal poem that took third
prize in ARC magazines 2000 competition, Cumberland, Smiths
first novel, is a truly fine piece of work. Whether this newfound editor
is internal or Cormorants Marc Coté, I dont know, and
it doesnt matter.
The story, set in a fictional Cornwall, Ontario, stand-in called Cumberland,
follows Ernest, a millworker whose life is a wreck; Bea, a waitress whose
life is a wreck; Nick and his young son Aaron, whose lives are wrecks;
and Amanda, a teenaged girl whose life is a wreck. Bea may love Ernest,
or she may just need him. Ernest certainly doesnt love Bea, not
the way he loves his ex-wife, anyway, but he needs Bea. Nick is still
very much in love with his dead wife, and Aaron loves his father but is
just awakening to the fact that his father is having trouble having anything
to do with him since his mother died. Amanda, who lives with Bea, figures
she loves Nick, or at least likes him more than her stinky teenaged boyfriend,
Alphie, who with his blunt-headed amalgam of emotional and sexual neediness
is only a notch or two better than Fletcher the bully, a failed Grade
4 student whos putting the moves on Aaron, who is pretty sure he
doesnt like him but isnt so sure he doesnt like it.
Ernest also loves Nick and occasionally wanders into the park to get blown
while he leans back with his eyes closed thinking of Nick.
With the exception of the final couple of paragraphs, which put far too
fine a point on things (I recommend taking a Sharpie and striking out
the last three lines before you read them), Cumberland is a wonderfully
restrained novel, a quality Smiths previous publications lacked.
Commentary and contextualization are kept to a minimum, allowing scenes
like Amandas discovery of Aaron and Fletcher in bed together to
play out beautifully. Throughout, an ethos of practical radicalism pervades,
a homespun version of queer postfeminist principles that, set as they
are here so seamlessly and unselfconsciously, appear to make simple, perfect
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The Ottawa Sun
By DON ERMEN
DARK DEBUT SHOWS PROMISE
By Michael V. Smith, Cormorant Book
It's always interesting to read the flaps of new books after you've read
them. There's always a sales pitch, but I like to see just how accurate
Cumberland, the debut novel by Michael V. Smith, is supposed to be a
bit like a story penned by a gay David Adams Richards. Richards, who happens
to be straight and there's nothing wrong with that, lives in Toronto and
is a New Brunswick native known for passionate yet unsentimental novels,
two of which have picked up Governor General's Awards. Smith might pick
up one of those coveted literary awards some day, but he won't do it with
It's a story revolving around the lives of five characters in the small
town of Cumberland before amalgamation. There's Ernest, a 50-something
factory worker, who lives alone in a shabby apartment and spends too much
time at any local watering hole he can sink into. His latest is Malouf's,
where he has struck up a friendship with Bea, a 40-something waitress
looking for a man to love. All she wants in return is to be treated decently.
Another bar regular is Nick, a recent widower who is raising his 11-year-old
son by dumping him at his aunt's each night while Nick heads to the bar.
Then there's Amanda, a 17-year-old who leaves home because she can't get
along with her mother. So she quits school, rents a room from Bea and
waitresses to pay the rent. Finally, there's Nick's 11-year-old son, Aaron.
Coping with the loss of his mother, Aaron develops a strange and unwanted
friendship with the school bully.
Each story intertwines. Amanda develops a crush on Nick. Nick smartly
sets her straight before getting into trouble. Ernest moves in with Bea.
He also takes Aaron camping and they bond. Meanwhile, Aaron has a few
sex-experimentation sessions with the school bully before he learns to
stand up for himself.
It's a depressing novel. These are people you might meet any day of the
week, but you wouldn't want to know them too well. The problem is that
Smith crafts his characters with so many secrets, so many hurts that it's
hard to believe they'll ever know happiness.
The pace is even, with the novel switching between each character's story,
each story building to a breaking point. The writing is solid, although
the ending is a bit of a letdown. Too many things are resolved too quickly
at the same time.
Still, Smith's debut novel shows enough promise to warrant keeping an
eye on this writer's future works.
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by Michael V. Smith (Cormorant), 293 pages, $22.95 paper.
Toronto, Thursday 25-apr-02
By SUSAN G. COLE
Sometimes a book creeps up on you. That's what happens with Cumberland,
a novel that starts out as if it's just another day in the bar for middle-aged
millworker Ernest but soon enters more explosive areas.Ernest is barely
recovered from his divorce of a year ago -- and he's not open about what
went wrong. The mill, thanks to free trade, is closing down. And he just
can't stop himself from heading down to the park for some late-night gay
Starting an affair with bartender Bea isn't helping, and anyway she's
got problems of her own, and a 17-year-old roommate who has a crush on
Ernest's 30-something drinking buddy Nick and doesn't seem to care that
Nick's wife recently died of cancer and his son isn't over the devastation.
The multi-gifted Smith -- he's also a poet, actor, screenwriter and video
maker -- tells the story plainly, and it's extremely effective. His characters'
stories of love and loss have so much emotional impact that they don't
need embellishment. He's got a way of understanding subtle personal dynamics
-- his scenario of a bully sexually harassing a lonely boy gets right
at the complex issues of complicity.
And though there are some resolutions to the tensions in the tale, Smith
doesn't let us off easy. We still don't know whether Ernest is ever going
back down to that park. But then again, some issues have a tendency to
linger, don't they?
Smith reads at This Ain't the Rosedale Library on Monday (April 29).
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