Last month Bessie explored the weird and wonderful theme of running away with the circus from our Fifth Business Reading Map. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies is our One Book One Community selection and winner of Haliburton County Reads. You can pick up our reading map – which is full of thematically related books to enjoy – at any of our eight branches, as well as view it online at www.haliburtonlibrary.ca by click on the One Book One Community link.
In Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, Paul Dempster not only runs away with the circus, but transforms himself into the mysterious magician Magnus Eisengrim, in an effort to leave his childhood in Deptford, and the small town drama swirling around it, behind. Paul isn’t the only one who tries to distance himself from his small town upbringing – Dunstan Ramsey (who grew up as Dunstable), and Boy Staunton (who grew up as Boyd) both change their names in an effort to leave the events in Deptford behind.
In recognition of this effort to change identities, one of the themes on our reading map is “New Identities” and includes books about characters who are grappling with their identity, or who assume a new identity. This category includes Haliburton County Reads finalist, Punishment by Linden MacIntyre. In Punishment, Tony Breau (who grew up Tony MacMillan) is forced into early retirement, returning to his rural Cape Breton town of St. Ninian to lick his wounds. Tony grew up the “adopted kid”, and is used to feeling like an outsider, changing his name from MacMillan to Breau as a way to distance himself from that feeling. Upon his arrival home, and despite his efforts to keep a low profile, he is drawn into a town tragedy. A young girl, and granddaughter of Tony’s first love, has died under suspicious circumstances and that suspicion has fallen squarely on ex-con Dwayne Strickland, a more troubled son of St. Ninian who Tony crossed paths with in the system. Tony isn’t convinced that Dwayne is capable of murder, but the townspeople have already started taking sides and Tony has to figure out how to do the right thing while fighting a mob mentality looking for vengeance.
Meanwhile, 24 hour news networks and newspapers buzz with the impending war in Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction. As talk in the corner store flips between controversy locally and controversy internationally, people find themselves identified not by the complex people they are, but branded by what side they are on – “ours” or “theirs” – or their hesitance to take a side. Under this pressure Tony becomes very stoic in a crowd, but works through his thoughts with a canine companion, the only one he can be himself around. In these scenes we get the most insight into who Tony Breau really is.
While Punishment could have fit into many other categories on our reading map, including our October Online Book Club theme “Small Town Gothic”, as well as “Fateful Events” and “Sinners and Saints”, it’s the question of identity – who are you and how to stay true to yourself when the hardest thing is doing the right thing – that really drives the story.
Linden MacIntyre is the featured author at the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library’s 10th Annual Book Gala and Silent Auction on November 8th, 1pm at the Pinestone Resort. Punishment will be available for sale by Master’s Bookstore at the event.
*Originally published in County Life on October 29th, 2015.