The dust jacket well describes After the Angel Mill, by Carol Bruneau (Cormorant, 168 pages, $16.95 paper): "This linked collection chronicles four generations of women.who represent the unsung multitude who have struggled through the years to make homes and keep families clothed and fed, while the men went down into the mines."
And praise to Bruneau: she certainly does that. It is a small book, but dense with the monotony of working-class rigour. All twelve stories are told in the first person, and not one person sounds different from the rest.
Hettie meets Thomas at a country dance, in the mid-twenties, in Blackett on Cape Breton. In another story, their daughter Grace meets John Alec at a country dance forty years later. At the end of the nights both men ask their future brides, "Wanna go out sometime?" Both women reply, "I s'pose."
Most of the stories end in much the same way; for example: "Not a cloud to be seen, but the sun too weak to do any good." Or "Nothing left but a pale, pale scum." Or "But nothing comes, nothing but the sharp click of the wheels stopping." Or "Till finally I give up, and let them suck me under."
Four generations of women describe their men and their bedrooms. It's a game after a while, to see if anybody will ever like the look of the bed they're about to lie in.
This is Hettie's wedding night: "Thomas took my hand and led me upstairs, the place all musty and half-furnished from the last people who'd lived there. The bedroom was pink painted-over wallpaper, with a big yellow spool bed, just the bare mattress with feathers sticking out of the blue-striped ticking."
This is her daughter's first time: "Inside the cabin it was dim and musty, smelling vaguely of old food.Off to one side hung a tattered plastic curtain strung up with clothespegs, behind it a rusty cot with a grey camp blanket tossed over it."
This is Hettie's son: "The room was no bigger than a closet, with a rusty cot and a sink in the corner with somebody's dinner puked in it. Half a plastic curtain sagged at the window.."
This is the despair of economically deprived lives. The mustiness, the rusty cot, the plastic curtain. It may not make for great stories, but it certainly gives a sincere chronicle.