The Mask Of The Bear by Margaret Laurence, 1963
The magic trick:
Explicitly considering and analyzing different story beats except for one, left to the reader to notice and connect
Vanessa, the young narrator of these stories, is writing a story of her own at night in her “scribbler” pad. It, she tells us, is about death and sex. Key inspirations? The Bible.
Seems like a throwaway laugh early in the story. But remember, this is Margaret Laurence. There are no throwaways. So of course, it proves to be a roadmap for the story’s plot and themes.
That’s not even the magic trick I want to highlight; it just happens to be what I started writing about when I started writing this note.
She really is such a master. No throwaways. No accidents.
In this story, it seems every comment (most of them overheard by Vanessa who is in full-on spy mode here) gets analyzed – either through characters continues conversation in response or by the narrator reflecting on what means.
Every comment except for one.
I won’t ruin the specifics for those who haven’t read the story. What I can say is that there is a biographical detail we learn about Grandfather’s time in Winnipeg near the end of the story that casts a light back on how he acts near the beginning of the story.
I wouldn’t call it subtle, but the way it floats through quietly gives it the feel of a connection specifically designed for the reader to ponder.
And that’s quite a trick on Laurence’s part.
“How’s The Pillars of the Nation coming along?” she asked.
That had been my epic on pioneer life. I had proceeded to the point in the story where the husband, coming back to the cabin one evening, discovered to his surprise that he was going to become a father. The way he ascertained this interesting fact was that he found his wife constructing a birch-bark cradle. Then came the discovery that Grandfather Connor had been a pioneer, and the story had lost its interest for me. If pioneers were like that, I had thought, my pen would be better employed elsewhere.
“I quit that one,” I replied laconically. “I’m making up another – it’s miles better. It’s called The Silver Sphinx. I’ll bet you can’t guess what it’s about.”
“The desert? Buried treasure? Murder mystery?”
I shook my head.
“Love,” I said.
“Good Glory,” Aunt Edna said, straight-faced. “That sounds fascinating. Where do you get your ideas, Vanessa?”
I could not bring myself to say the Bible. I was afraid she might think this sounded funny.
“Oh, here and there,” I replied noncommittally. “You know.”
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