Mélanie Grondin Review - The Factory Voice
Stenographers, Spinsters, and Snack-Wagon Girls
Northern Ontario, 1940s. Most of the men are off to war while women from across Canada migrate to Fort William to work in the plane factory. As The Factory Voice uses multiple narratives, many voices tell the story of Fort William Aviation, particularly those of the four main female characters, but only one voice truly stands out: Audrey's. She is the factory's distinctive voice. If Jeanette Lynes had used Audrey's narrative voice throughout the novel, the book would have been unforgettable.
Ruby Kozak, former Fort William beauty queen, is head stenographer at Fort William Aviation. She believes she is destined for great things and dreams of becoming an investigative reporter. Waiting for her big break, she writes the factory's newsletter The Factory Voice in the hope of finding a juicy story that will show the world what a great reporter she is. Audrey Foley is a strange sixteen-year-old who runs away from her small town and the ranch hand who wants to marry her. Even though Audrey is too young to work, Ruby hires her as snack-wagon girl and snoop. The only thing Audrey wants is to find out how the wings are fastened to planes. Muriel McGregor, a thirty-six-year-old spinster who only cares about science, is Chief Engineer, while Florence Voutilainen is the ugly duckling. Florence is fat, has bad teeth and big feet, and is on probation at the factory because her mother is against the war. While Ruby, Muriel, and Florence seek the usual happiness, fulfillment and maybe even love, Audrey, the quirky character whose voice is exceptional, is already quite happy being snack-wagon girl and gets a kick out of juggling muffins.
Though the setting of Jeanette Lyne's first novel is unusual (how many novels are there about women working in a factory during World War II?), there is very little unusual about the characters (except Audrey): the beauty queen is a bitch who's willing to do anything to achieve her glamorous career, the ugly duckling just wants to be loved and the nerd "makes the mistake" of listening to her heart. These and other characters intersect, bump into each other and influence each other, but the ties are hard to see. So much of the action is described after it actually happened that it's difficult to feel and relate to events whose details are skimmed over. The mystery Lynes tries to create falls flat.
Despite its flaws, however, The Factory Voice is a fun book to read if we don't ask too much of it. The writing is strong and Lynes has a wonderful way of playing with form.
Mélanie Grondin is a South Shore writer and translator whose work has appeared in Room Magazine, Soliloquies, Headlight Anthology, carte blanche and the Montreal Review of Books.