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Purple for Sky

by Carol Bruneau

Imagine that you’re Lindy Hammond, a 63-year-old single woman in a depressed rural hamlet, looking after a wandering, 90-year-old aunt and running a seedy convenience store: what are your chances of finally finding love and fulfilment? Not good, when the only men you ever see from behind your cash register are surly teenagers or geezers. Lindy soldiers on in what was once a bustling family business in a thriving coal town, now mainly just a video and cat-food outlet. Shoplifting kids harass her, Aunt Ruby’s growing dementia distresses her. The only bright spot is the occasional appearance in the store of Wilf, the paunchy foreman of a highway road crew.

The craft that Carol Bruneau’s honed over two accomplished short-story collections shines in her skilfully engineered first novel. She interweaves the distinct voices of three generations of women: Lindy, Ruby, and Ruby’s mother, Effie, who emigrated as a girl from England to Nova Scotia. Effie’s story is told through a diary written in an old ledger, primed with explosive secrets.

Our credulity is, however, slightly strained that Effie, with rudimentary country schooling, should write so eloquently. In contrast, her great-niece’s wonderfully earthy dialect appears to be largely drawn from the tabloids and Oprah. (Lindy’s responses to Wilf’s overtures are breathtakingly inarticulate: when he offers her a ring she sputters “Oh my frig!” and “What the hell!”) The generational decline in eloquence reflects dwindling expectations of life, a result of the downturn in the community’s economic fortunes.

The narrative unfolds slowly but, even at a door-stopping 400-plus pages, doesn’t drag as Bruneau brings into focus the complex, clouded passions of her characters. Lindy’s happiness comes late; we hope it will, miraculously, redeem not only her own disappointments but those of the women who have gone before her.