Coherence in A Bird in the House Bruce Stovel
From the start, readers of A Bird in the House, Margaret Laurence's book of short stories about growing up in Manawaka, have been particularly struck by two things. One is the author's artistry, and the other is the book's unity and wholeness. As for the first quality, Henry Kreisel says in his review of the book, "The prose is clean and simple and beautifully shaped" (94); Patricia Morley in her book Margaret Laurence speaks of her stories as "beautifully crafted" (114); Barbara Hehner, in an article on Laurence's fiction as a whole, refers in passing to "the almost perfect narrative form . . . of A Bird in the House (45); and Sherrill Grace, in "Crossing Jordan: Time and Memory in the Fiction of Margaret Laurence," an essay that contains a very penetrating discussion of the book, considers it "a small masterpiece . . . perhaps her finest work" (329). The second quality has been just as evident: the anonymous reviewer in Choice observed that the stones "are best understood and appreciated when read all together rather than as separate short stones" ( Review 1374), and William French noted in his review that "the cumulative impact is greater than the stun of the parts" (15). Laurence herself says in "Time and the Narrative Voice," a commentary upon two of her short stories, that although seven of the eight stories in the book appeared separately before it was published as a single volume in 1970, the stories "were . . . conceived from the beginning as a related group. Each story is self-contained in the sense that it is definitely a short story and not a chapter from a novel, but the net effect is not unlike that of a novel" ( Time157). It was to describe this mingling of genres that Kent Thompson, in his review of A Bird in the House, framed a new and influential critical term: the whole-book: "a book which is more than a collection of short stories and yet, though like a novel in some ways, not a novel" ( Place232).
Readers, then, have found these stories both highly crafted and unusually integrated. There is, I believe, a direct connection between these two facts; much of the artistry in each story lies in the interconnected, cumulative resonances that bind the stones together into a single, coherent whole. In this essay I will explore the