Is is said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The cover illustration on The Day The Men Went To Town features a woman, head thrown back, laughing, carefree, as the smoke from her cigarette dances a trail above. It evokes a feeling of freedom and confidence; a woman doing what she feels. In this case, it does reflect the contents of the book.
This collection of short stories, compiled by Ron Caplan and published by Breton Books, is the recipient of the CJCB Book of the Year Award. The contributors are all women with some tie to Cape Breton. Not all the authors are originally from the Island, nor do all of them currently reside here. Some are familiar names, like Ann-Marie MacDonald, who wrote Fall On Your Knees (which is excerpted here) or East Bay author Beatrice MacNeil, whose stories and plays have earned her admiration throughout the region. Others are being published for the first time, as Caplan says, “… some have achieved a bit of fame–and several others will be discoveries.”
The connection to Cape Breton may be the only things these sixteen women have in common, other than their love of writing and the need to do so. The short story genre is not an easy one, since so much has to be contained in so little space. The stories in The Day The Men Went To Town are individual gems. The characters vary in age, occupation and culture; such as the youthful widow whose heart is in two places–her adopted home of Glace Bay and her original home of Ireland in Theresa O’Brien’s A Trailing Memory; or the waitress in a family restaurant stirring soup and recalling a bitter sweet love of her University days in a story penned by Erin MacNamara. In these sixteen tales, there is something for everyone, something to laugh at, someone to identify with. All of the works are well written, although the language and the feel of each one is different from the others. Not all stories take place in or are about Cape Breton. But until this book, I had no idea that there was such a wealth of women writers actually living here.
In putting this book together, Ronald Caplan has done a marvelous service, not only to readers and not just to the women whose stories are published here. For those who write and hide it under the bed or in the back of the closet, it must be great encouragement and inspiration to know that there is a community of readers here eager for them to take their stories out and share them with the rest of us. And a talented group of women to lead the way.