The government has decided to buy the residents of Sweetland out for a handsome sum and then will relocate them to a place of their choice. However, 100% of the residents must sign on for the deal to proceed. Moses Sweetland is the last holdout and the townspeople are beginning to resent his obstinacy. The deal is sweet, and they are not happy that Moses is preventing them from getting their money. They want to leave the island which is no longer able to support them or their families, and they want to begin again elsewhere. Moses does not want to begin again elsewhere, and he has his good reasons, too. Soon, the once close community begins to unravel and diminish in size as the residents voice their resentment to him, sometimes acting out against him, and eventually, also moving on to new homes in other places.
The dialogue is simple and perfectly captures the way in which the locals would have bantered with each other. The description of the quiet, hardscrabble lifestyle that the elements demanded of the residents is spot on. Moses keeps many secrets which he thinks protect the community as well as protects the residents, in some cases, from the community’s wagging tongues. The climate was unforgiving and the commercial opportunities were scarce. Most subsisted on meager “givings” from the land and their livestock, working off-island, at times, to support their families. They adjusted to the way of life and would acclimate to their new lives as well. They were hardy people, and of necessity, and also because of true concern, they usually treated each other like family, caring for and helping each other when necessary, until, that is, their greed began to obsess them.
Leaving Sweetland, for Moses, would mean losing his heritage, the home in which he grew up, his memories, his buried relatives, and along with the camaraderie of his friends, neighbors and relatives, he would also lose himself, his raison d’etre. Leaving the island would mean erasing his entire past and ancestry. He and his family would simply disappear from memory. Sweetland deals with his dilemma in the way of a simple man, without thinking it through well enough, because he didn’t really have the wherewithal to do anything else. He simply had the desire to protect what was his and on a wing and a prayer, he went forward.
This is a story about a man the reader is going to love and root for, because he is a gentle, soul, not well educated and sometimes with a sharp tongue, who has simple needs. He is dedicated to holding on to what he believes in, holding on to his heritage. He is being forced to resist the efforts of the townspeople he has lived with all his life, the friends and relatives who are now trying to convince him to take the deal and leave the land his family settled and for which the island is named. This remote area of Newfoundland is called Sweetland, and nearby, there is also an even smaller island that is called Little Sweetland.
In the end, when the old map of the area does not include the islands, are the fears of Moses realized? Has his history been wiped out? Would the map have included them in the future, if the government had not bought them out? Which parts of the dialogue are real and which are the creations of his loneliness? Is Sweetland’s ultimate plan to preserve his state of being a sensible one? As he begins to question his own sanity, does Sweetland truly have misgivings, or are they simply imagined in his dreams and nightmares? What did Jesse and the dog represent to Sweetland? Why did he have visions of Queenie and Hollis? Who were the people marching and where were they going? Was the relationship between Effie and Moses developed well enough? What other choice did Sweetland actually have at his age and in his condition, other than to try and remain where he had lived his entire life? What is the ultimate end for Mr. Sweetland and others like him, for surely there will be others like him in other places of the world? Did the island become a prison for Moses, eventually, rather than a refuge or was it his salvation in the end as they all marched into oblivion?