In a colliery town, sirens from the mine can mean cave-ins, explosions, or, as in the Westray disaster, sudden death.
Sheldon Currie, author of The Glace Bay Miners' Museum (Breton Books, 138 pages, $12.95 paper) was born in Reserve Mines, Cape Breton, and judging by the headlong intensity of this novel, he still hears those sirens.
The story begins as shy, awkward Margaret MacNeil meets a strapping miner named Neil Currie. She's already had her father and a brother die in the coalpits, but she hopes that Neil will be more lucky.
For a while, he is. Hauling a pick and shovel underground to work in darkness and danger can't extinguish Neil's boisterous nature. He's a rebel, a dreamer and believer in the restorative powers of the Gaelic language and music. Together with Margaret's brother Ian, he organizes a union to get a better deal for the miners.
Neil and Margaret have moments of pure joy-walks on the beach, card parties, Neil playing his bagpipes-but even these are overshadowed by the ever-present threat of the mine.
A miners' strike has tragic results, but by then Margaret has absorbed enough of Neil's defiant spirit that she takes her own bizarre revenge against circumstances.
The conclusion is shocking, even grotesque, but it gives dramatic force to Margaret's narration of the events; the authentic rasp of a woman half-crazed with grief.