Roy’s original French title of Bonheur d’occasion has no precise English equivalent—critics have suggested “chance happiness,” “bargain-basement happiness,” and “second-hand happiness” as approximate translations. The Tin Flute is a toy that young Daniel Lacasse only gets when dying with a fatal illness.
The scene is the Saint-Henri district of Montreal, a slum adjoining factories along the Lachine Canal, from which noxious odors permeate the district. The time is early 1940; news of triumphant German armies forms an ominous background to the novel.
Young Florentine Lacasse, a waitress at a five-and-dime lunch counter, supports her family financially. Her father, Azarius, a carpenter by trade and an idealistic daydreamer, cannot hold a job. Florentine flirts with Jean Lévesque, an ambitious young machinist who realizes that war work is his road out of poverty.
Rose-Anna Lacasse, pregnant with her twelfth child, worries about spending her family’s meager funds. They will shortly need to move, probably to even worse conditions. Her son Eugène proudly tells his mother that he has enlisted and the army will send her twenty dollars a month. When Rose-Anna visits the five-and-dime, Florentine treats her to a meal. As Rose-Anna leaves, she examines a toy tin flute that her sick young son Daniel would like but cannot justify the expense and puts it back.
Emmanuel Létourneau, in uniform...
(The entire section is 482 words.)