The Half-Husky by Margaret Laurence, 1967
The magic trick:
Waiting well into the text to show the story’s larger concerns and meanings
I can’t say enough good things about the Margaret Laurence story cycle/collection A Bird In the House. Its eight stories range in quality from amazing to very good.
“The Half-Husky” is another of her stories that restrict the reader to corridors for a while before opening the path out onto a surprising plaza of clarity. Surely, there’s a better metaphor somewhere that explains what I’m trying to say.
What I mean is that you only know what is going on in the story for the first half to three-quarters of the text. It’s only in the end that you understand why those events meant something larger.
Here, we start with our narrator Vanessa (now 15; she’s usually younger in the collection’s other stories) getting a puppy. Soon we meet the local newspaper delivery boy. Not long after, we find that he’s tormenting the puppy every time he delivers the paper to the yard.
It’s still not at all clear where this is heading.
Then in a whir of events – we realize that we’ve been reading a story rife with considerations of abuse, poverty, death and the nature of fate.
And that’s quite a trick on Laurence’s part.
Harvey Shinwell delivered our papers. He was a heavily built boy of about sixteen, with colourless eye brows and a pallid mottled face. After school he would go and pick up the, papers from the station and deliver them on his old bicycle. He was somebody who had always been around and whom I had never actually seen. Until that winter.
Nanuk had the run of the yard, but the gates were kept closed. The picket fence was high, and the wooden pieces were driven deep into the earth, so Nanuk could neither get over nor tunnel under. I took him out on walks with me but apart from that he stayed in the yard. This did not mean he was too much confined, however, for our yard was nearly an acre. One day I got home from school just as Harvey Shinwell had come to the gate and thrown the Winnipeg Free Press onto our front porch. He didn’t get back on his bike immediately. He was standing at the gate, and when I approached along the sidewalk I could see what he was doing.
In his hand he held a short pointed stick. He was poking it through the bars of the gate. On the other side was Nanuk, only four months old, but snarling in a way I had never heard before.
He was trying to catch the stick with his teeth, but Harvey withdrew it too quickly. Then Harvey jabbed it in again, and this time it caught Nanuk in the face. He yelped with the pain of it, but he was not driven away. He came back again, trying to get hold of the stick, and once more Harvey with a calm deliberation drove the wooden javelin at the dog.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ I yelled. ‘You leave my dog alone, you hear?’
Harvey looked up with a lethargic grin and mounted his bike.
‘He tried to bite me,’ he said. ‘He’s dangerous.’
‘He is not!’ I cried, infuriated. ‘I saw!’
‘Why don’t you run and tell your mother, then?’ Harvey said, in phony falsetto.
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