The story takes place in Montreal, principally in the poor neighbourhood of Saint-Henri, between February 1940 and May 1940, during the Second World War, when Quebec is still suffering from the Great Depression. Florentine Lacasse, a young waitress at the "Five and Ten" restaurant who dreams of a better life and is helping her parents get by, falls in love with Jean Lévesque, an ambitious machinist-electrician. Wanting to satisfy his withered ego, he agrees to date Florentine. Quickly tiring of the relationship, Jean introduces her to a friend, Emmanuel Létourneau, who is a soldier on leave. Emmanuel falls in love with Florentine. Despite this, Florentine's attraction towards Jean will have important consequences in her life. A parallel thread in the novel is the Lacasse family life, made difficult by their poverty.
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