Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul


"Hector Penniac was a delicate, fine-boned boy, studious and thoughtful, with dreams of becoming a doctor, and not, at first glance, well suited for physical labour.   He was, nevertheless, delighted to get a chance to make some money working the hold of the  Lutheran, a Dutch ship being loaded with pulp logs at the wharf in nearby Millbank. Arriving “shiny and new” in his recently acquired work clothes, pockets full of small gifts of cigarettes and gum for his new work companions, he was, within a few short hours, lying dead beneath a load of pulp logs. By happenstance, Roger Savage, a young white labourer, was also on the docks that morning.   In fact, he had arrived late, and it was Hector who had taken Roger’s place in the hold of the Lutheran. By further happenstance Roger, who had decided to wait around to see if, as was often the case, further places would be awarded later in the day, was available when George Morrissey, taking an unauthorized break, asked him to hook a load of pulp logs in his absence.  The load that Roger hooked was the load that supposedly killed Hector."

"As in all small communities, the story spreads quickly and within a very short time begins a  subtle metamorphosis from the simple facts of the death to something darker.  The proximity of a white labourer and a dead Micmac glowed with potential significance.  The urge to connect the two through subterranean tunnels of consciousness hollowed out by decades of conflict, injustice and oppression, proves irresistable, and the facts are subsumed into a larger, more fundamental narrative of bigotry and vengeance. Soon the incident is considered “fishy,” and then criminal, as the theory emerges that Roger, in a fit of racially-motivated spite, deliberately killed Hector by tampering with the hook on the load of logs.  This becomes the perceived wisdom within the band , despite a number of glaring logical impediments, and the fact that the authorities could find no basis for charges. White members of the community have their own reasons for encouraging this interpretation."

"In this story, a charming young man loses his life tragically.  The truth is there for anyone with patience and good will to discover and yet the community chooses to constuct and defend a false truth, a false truth which outsiders with no perspective on the situation are only to happy to perpetuate. As a result, two more innocent lives are lost, and a multitude of others warped.  Although Richards’ rendering of the details of the case are precise and the story functions as a credible mystery, his real focus is the why.  Why, why, why? Why, in a fiction that any thoughtful reader will recognize as extraordinarily true to life, did otherwise good people stifle misgivings and support a false narrative?  What minute fluctuations in need and desire governed each assault on truth?  Why was Hector, who, as it turns out, was suspected of being gay, and therefore often persecuted and shunned by his community, posthumously resurrected as the reserve’s adored poster boy for hope and progress?  What, in short, constituted the “common unspoken” of the case?  Some characters, like the Monks, had straightforward, self-serving reasons to encourage the triumph of the lie, and one, Amos, steadfastly resisted its allure but it is within the shifting allegiances of the “average” person that the fascination lies."

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David Adams Richards
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