‘Jericho’s Brick Battlements’ by Margaret Laurence

Jericho’s Brick Battlements by Margaret Laurence, 1970

The magic trick:

Uncanny knowing control over familial relationships

Today we finish our look at Laurence’s truly astounding story cycle, A Bird In The House. This is the eighth and final story, and it’s the one I would recommend anyone read if they wanted to get a feel for the collection by reading just one of the stories. It’s probably the one that stands on its own the best. That being said, it’s not exactly representative in that our narrator, Vanessa, is a teenager in this story. She’s been closer to 10 years old for most of the rest of the stories.

Anyway, it’s a remarkable story, whether you use it as the conclusion or your entrance to the collection.

It recalls “The Mask Of The Bear” from earlier in the cycle in its portrait of Vanessa’s Grandfather Connor. Throughout that story – and the BITH collection – Vanessa’s acts of rebellion come across as childish moments of learning. Here, in “Jericho’s Brick Battlements,” she is older so her pushback against family expectations packs more of a punch. The battles with Grandfather Connor, in particular, feel more intense and potentially hurtful.

The story, like the collection as a whole, shows an uncanny control of familial relationships.

And that’s quite a trick on Laurence’s part.

The selection:

My grandfather emerged from the basement, winding his watch with obvious intent.

“Aren’t you folks ever going to sleep?” he demanded. “You plan on sitting up all night, Vanessa?”

“It’s only eleven,” I countered. “That’s not late.”

“Not late, eh?” Grandfather Connor said. “You’re still going to school, you know. You need your rest. These late hours won’t do you no good. No good at all.”

He glared at Michael, who edged a little away from me.

“If Mother doesn’t mind, I don’t see why you should,” I said.

“Your mother’s got no sense,” Grandfather Connor declared.

I had argued away at my mother on every possible facet of our existence, but I did not recall any of this now.

“She’s got plenty of sense,” I cried furiously. “She’s got a darned sight more than you’ve ever had!”

My grandfather looked at me with dangerous eyes, and all at once, I was afraid of what he might say.

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