Prairie Books NOW Review - The Factory Voice

Reviewed by: Gordon Morash

Not Just Punching the Clock

Author moves from poetry to fiction (and back again)

Jeanette Lynesmight just be the perfect example of a literary multi-tasker and academic itinerant - she has served as writer-in-residence in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Kingston, Ontario; and Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Between 2008 and 2009, she already has three of her own books in play - with another book of poetry coming soon - and a pair of edited books. 

One of these books is The Factory Voice, the English professor's first work of fiction, falling hard on the heels of her acclaimed 2008 biographical poetry collection, It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems.

"Rather than shifting from poetry to fiction, I like to think of the two more as bilateral energies," she explains. "I move back and forth. I've always been interested in the storied potential of poetry. I think about stories - especially concerning people's everyday lives - a lot. I never fail to marvel at the strangeness of our human stories."

With The Factory Voice, a book that was seven years in the making, the multi-tasking moves ever forward as Lynes presents a historical novel set in the 1940's that is at once a comic mystery full of political subversives, and a feminist tract, to boot. The four female characters work at the fictionally named Fort William aircraft factory in 1941, building the two-seater, laminated ply-wood de Havilland Mosquito bomber for the Royal Air Force. During test flights, however, the planes keep crashing.

"Fiction offers a huge canvas on which to explore the sheer oddness of human personality," says Lynes. "Also, I like the enormous conceptual challenges posed by the novel form, though I confess I often found these challenges daunting to the point of wanting to rip my hair out by the roots."

In casting her fictional characters - with just a hint of Anne of Green Gables in the orphan Audrey Foley who is adopted by the factory - and her true-to-life plot, Lynes admits the book could easily have fallen over the edge to creative nonfiction, especially considering that one writing mentor was Merilyn Simonds, author of The Convict Lover.

"Well, the book is fiction. That is the safe answer," Lynes says. "But there are some actual historical elements underpinning it.

"There was an aircraft manufacturing plant in Fort Williams during the Second World War, though I renamed it in the novel. The character of the novel's woman engineer is inspired by Canada's first woman aeronautical engineer, who actually worked at the Fort William plant during the Second World War. I went through her papers at the National Archives. There were detainee camps in northwestern Ontario near where the camps are in my story."

What this means to Lynes is that history lives, even when she bends it to literary purposes. When she began researching while teaching at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, she came across women who had built Hawker Hurricanes.

"Even after I relocated from Thunder Bay to Nova Scotia in 1998, those elderly ladies who had once riveted and welded and driven forklifts never left my head."

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