What I like most about Sheldon Currie’s fiction, both in his short novel The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum and his other work, is that he can vividly describe the lives of ordinary, working class Cape Bretoners without resorting to the distortions of mythologizing or sentimentalizing his subject.
The plot of Miners’ Museum, like its main character Margaret MacNeil, is slight but sturdy; it started as a short story, became a radio play, simultaneously evolved into a film and stage play, and now has expanded the work into a short novel. Tiny but scrappy, Margaret meets the hulking but sensitive Neil. They court, then they marry. Neil and Margaret’s brother, Ian, a union organizer are killed in the pit. Margaret, wild with grief at this loss and the earlier deaths of her father and another brother, creates a ghoulish “miners’ museum.”
Currie uses Margaret as narrator and she is a strong, compelling character: earthy, feisty and funny, recklessly honest, generous and instinctively wise, Margaret and her sisters can still be found today in Cape Breton’s malls and bingo halls and Currie’s creation of her voice is pitch perfect. As well as wonderful characters and comic dialogue, there are insights into the growing divide between rural and urban Cape Bretoners, plus some well observed set-piece scenes contrasting Catholic and Protestant wakes and a sadly evocative scene with a beached whale. I found the ending too abrupt, what Margaret does is shocking, unforgettable and in character, but I think most readers will want to linger longer with Margaret. This novel is a quick, satisfying read and, as Cape Bretoners say, “it tastes like more”.