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edition:eBook
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category: Fiction
published: May 2009
ISBN:9781550508055
publisher: Coteau Books

The Factory Voice

by Jeanette Lynes

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humorous, historical, literary
0 of 5
0 ratings
rated!
rated!
list price: $9.95
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: May 2009
ISBN:9781550508055
publisher: Coteau Books
Description

Loyalty and betrayal, love and worthiness, friendship and ambition are the themes which connect the characters in this lively, quirky, fast-paced novel.

Wrapped around the stories of these four women, is a mystery. Something’s gone wrong with the Mosquitoes being built for the war effort - they keep crashing in flight tests, for no apparent reason. Is the problem with their design, or are they being sabotaged? By whom? The traitorous Red Finns? The political subversives who have recently escaped from one of the nearby prison camps? Everyone’s on high alert and “The Factory Voice” keeps abreast of the details or at least the rumours.

Rich with forties language and imagery, especially the sights and sounds of an assembly plant, The Factory Voice  is a quirky, light-hearted mystery about the daily lives of factory workers and in particular of women in a time of transition, both for their personal lives and for the society in general.

About the Author
Jeanette Lynes is the author of six collections of poetry. Her most recent book of poems, Archive of the Undressed (2012), was shortlisted for two Saskatchewan Book Awards. Her previous poetry received the Bliss Carman Award and The New Quarterly's Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Award. Lynes' seventh book of poems, Bedlam Cowslip: The John Clare Poems is forthcoming from Wolsak and Wynn in 2015 under its Buckrider Books Imprint. Her first novel, The Factory Voice (2009) was long-listed for The Scotia Bank Giller Prize and a ReLit Award. She is the inaugural Coordinator of the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan.
Author profile page >
Awards
  • Long-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Editorial Review

The Factory Voice, set in Fort William, Ont. (now part of Thunder Bay), in the midst of the Second World War, is so much fun to read, with such an inventive and entertaining premise, that I can imagine it as a great television series. First-time novelist Jeanette Lynes, best known for her award-winning poetry, has a great talent for bringing idiosyncratic characters to life while capturing wartime atmosphere, vernacular and anxiety. At the same time, she shines a light on one of Canada's most fascinating historical women, Elsie McGill, a.k.a. Queen of the Hurricane, Canada's first female aeronautic engineer, who was called into service to help convert the Canada Car and Foundry in Fort William into a Hawker Hurricane fighter-jet factory. Muriel McGregor, or Queen of the Mosquitoes, Lynes's fictional stand-in for Elsie McGill, is one of four spirited women recruited into the war effort. The 36-year-old "spinster" has risen to engineering stardom at a cost, and she arrives in the Canada's harsh North nursing a broken heart, a strained relationship with her mother (a prominent Vancouver juvenile-court judge) and the after-effects of polio that has left her relying on a cane. Ruby Kozak, a former Miss Fort William and an aspiring newspaper reporter, runs the stenographer's pool, hires staff and is the heart and soul behind the company newsletter, The Factory Voice. Audrey Foley is a feisty, underage, aeronautics-loving waif who escapes Spruce Grove, Alta., and certain marriage to an undesirable young man of her parents' choosing. Finally, there's Florence Voutilainen, whose notable talent as a riveter belies the bright red "probation" scarf she has to wear because of wartime paranoia about her "Red Finn" mother. The story opens with Ruby's hard-hitting report for The Factory Voice about a prison break in a nearby town, and one particular fugitive, Thaddeus Brink, with priors dating to his youth in Vancouver. Muriel's first day on the job leaves her weak-kneed, less from her exhausting walk around Fort William Aviation than from her glimpse of Brink on the "wanted" poster in the head-office foyer. She's not the only one concealing a secret past. Ruby's perfect veneer, which leaves wafts of sweet lilac fragrance and many devotees in its wake, hides a marked past with mechanic/chauffeur/factory trainer Jimmy Petrik. Jimmy keeps his dealings with subversives under the radar. His cohort Reggie Hatch, the skinny, pimply kid from Rainy River, Ont., has love and career ambitions that no one could even imagine. Audrey claims she is from Prince Edward Island, thereby keeping the theft of her mom's cherry-jar savings and her flight from home under wraps. Ruby employs her as the snack-cart-girl-cum-investigative informant; the former disappoints, the latter thrills her, not least because she adores and idolizes Ruby. Until one day when she sees past Ruby's saccharin disposition and switches her loyalty to Muriel, who grants a regular invite to teach her how airplanes work, satisfying the curiosity that brought Audrey to Fort William in the first place. The brooding fugitive Thaddeus has covert dealings with both Florence's Red Finn mom, and with Muriel. Lieutenant-Colonel Roper McLaughlin poses as a government security agent and suitor to Muriel, when his actual relationship to her couldn't be further from that. The mysteries of the four women and those of the men who surround them are slowly revealed through The Factory Voice newsletter, Audrey's hilarious dispatches and Muriel's diary entries. Each character is well constructed and likeable, even the conniving Ruby, who, desperately seeking a journalism career, can't even win a morale-boosting factory writing competition and is reduced to hosting a talent contest in which even the muffin-juggling Audrey and the trumpet-playing Florence participate. The entire story reads like a radio drama of the time, complete with 1940s colloquialisms such as "swell" and "dilly." Lynes doesn't ignore the seriousness of the Second World War and Canada's sacrifices; her story has its share of tragedy, poverty, charity, bigotry, uncertainty and sobering reality, as depicted by signs dotted throughout Fort William Aviation that say things like "Buy Victory Bonds," "All This Could End Tomorrow" and "Stay Alert, Report Anything Unusual, No Matter How Small." She does, however, tell a rollicking good tale that shows regular ol' Canadians making the best of the worst of times. It'll make you laugh and cry; it's a fictional slice of Canadian history about an ordinary boxcar-manufacturing plant in Northern Ontario that won one of the biggest airplane commissions of the Second World War, the engineering pioneer who ran it and the motley cast of players who were drawn there for guaranteed employment and shelter while riding out the war. The biggest bonus by far is Lynes's subtle introduction to one of the most interesting lines of women in our country, dating to the 19th century. Elizabeth McGill was indeed the first female airplane designer in Canada, her mother, Helen Gregory McGill, was British Columbia's first female judge and her grandmother was a suffragette. Lynes has written previously on the work of Canadian women during the war and clearly became enamoured. Instead of giving us a laboured account and biography of McGill, she invented an entertainment in the form of this inspired book.

— Globe & Mail

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Reader Reviews

Why hasn't this book been noticed?

I adored this book or, at least, I adored the story in this book.

It's 1941 and the war machine is cranking out planes just as fast as it can. Fort William Aviation is doing its bit by building Mosquito airplanes. But it needs workers, lots of workers to staff at least two shifts a day. They advertise all over the country. One of the people who reads the ad is Audrey, a 16-year-old farm girl from Spruce Grove, Alberta. Audrey is determined she isn't going to be made to marry the hired hand so she takes her parents' savings, hops on a train and heads east to Fort William. Also on the train is Muriel from Vancouver. Muriel is considerably older than Audrey and far more educated as she has trained as an aeronautical engineer. She is heading to Fort William Aviation to take up the post of Chief Engineer. The planes being turned out by the plant have been having problems and recently the test pilot broke his leg when the plane he was testing crashed. At the plant both Audrey and Muriel encounter Ruby, the head stenographer and chief writer of "The Factory Voice", the plant newspaper. Ruby is gorgeous, smells great and has a high opinion of her writing skills. Ruby is also in charge of hiring everyone and she agrees to hire Audrey as the snack cart girl. Ruby has also managed to get her childhood friend, Florence, a job even though Florence's mother is known as a "Red Finn". Florence is overweight, big-footed, has rotten teeth; in short she and Ruby are complete opposites.

All of these women have dreams and aspirations. Their work throws them together more than they otherwise would be. None of them are what you could call experienced when it comes to men. Ruby has had sex which resulted in a pregnancy that she terminated by visiting a doctor in Toronto but other than that experience she doesn't seem too interested in men. Audrey isn't interested in men romantically; in fact, she is probably a lesbian and is in love with Ruby. Muriel hasn't really had a boyfriend since she was young and that ended prematurely when her mother (a judge) sent him away to jail. Florence would like to have a boyfriend but she has always been big and ungainly. As they build their airplanes they also try to find love, not an easy task when men are in short supply.

I easily visualized these women from the descriptions Jeanette Lynes gave them. I could just see little Audrey wheeling that snack cart around the plant and Ruby typing away while trying to think of a big story that would get her noticed. Muriel, with her cane and her cigarettes sitting at her drafting table, was another clear picture. I think the one I really related to was Florence. I've been that overweight, ungainly girl looking for love in all the wrong places. I survived and so will Florence.

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