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.