Carol Bruneau writes about the interior lives of seemingly ordinary characters. In her newest novel, 71-year-old Lucy Caine is a woman few people would look at twice on the street, yet Lucy’s life has been extraordinary. The terrible explosion that flattened Halifax during the First World War took away her family, including her tiny daughter, and cost her husband, Harry, his eye. Some 50 years later, a stroke levels Harry, and though it’s a minor blow compared with the scale of the earlier ones, it threatens everything Lucy has salvaged and clung to.
Glass Voices demonstrates how profoundly love shapes lives, no matter what else happens. Yet Bruneau gives us little romance in Lucy’s existence with her “clan,” made up of Harry, her son Jewel, his abrasive wife Rebecca, and their feckless, dope-smoking son. The burden of Harry’s care falls upon Lucy – which seems grossly unfair, given what a lousy husband he has generally been, drowning his sorrows after the disaster in gambling and carousing. Lucy’s desperation produced her own guilty secrets, including a liaison with an escaped German POW and an isolation so desperate she once set down her infant son and walked into the sea in an attempt to drown herself.
Bruneau’s first novel, Purple for Sky, won several Maritime awards, and this, her third, is almost as good. The stream-of-consciousness evocation of Lucy’s life is textured and rich. It is often funny, too, particularly when immersed in the shag-rug tawdriness of the 1960s. Despite the excruciatingly slow pace of Harry’s recovery, and the grim circularity of Lucy’s preoccupations, the reader is pulled steadily along by the unfolding past. Then, at the book’s end, two events blindside us and once again change the landscape of Lucy’s life.