1. What is the significance of the poem that serves as the novel’s epigraph?
2. “How could we ever get revenge without burning the entire roof off the world?” (36) How does David Adams Richards bring history into this novel? How do historical events matter to the different characters?
3. In what ways is the truth about what happened to Hector Penniac absolute or relative in Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul?
4. Many apparently free and powerful characters in the novel are shown to be controlled by forces outside themselves or other people’s expectations of them. Show how this is the case for Amos Paul, Max Doran, Isaac Snow or Joel Ginnish—and why it matters.
5. Discuss the character of Amos Paul. At times Amos seems to be in “over his head” (46), and at other times to be the wisest character in the book. How do you see him?
6. Why is Markus so haunted by the need to find out the truth about Hector Penniac’s death? Is his quest ultimately successful?
7. Describe, as best you can, the moral perspective that informs Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul.
8. Which character did you find most fascinating in the novel, and why?
9. Discuss David Adams Richards’ approach to telling his story in the novel. Which contemporary writers does it remind you of, if any? Which writers from the past? Why does he tell the story in this way? (Can you imagine it told in an unreliable, first-person voice, for example?)
10. What do the occasional literary references in the novel (to Wordsworth, Fitzgerald, Conrad and the like) add?
11. “Canadians believed truth is democratic and objective and already arrived at.” (82) How is Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul a quintessentially Canadian book? What does it challenge Canadians to do or change?
12. What is heroic in this novel? What is sinful?
13. Why is the book called Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul? What other titles for the novel can you come up with, and how would they change it?
14. In what ways is this novel a detective story? How are Amos and Markus similar and/or different as detectives?
15. Why does Joel and Isaac’s relationship develop the way it does?
16. “You’ll never get it right,” Joel Ginnish tells Max Doran. “Not with us.” (162) How does the novel describe the distance between First Nations and whites in New Brunswick? Is it ultimately optimistic or pessimistic about their relations?
17. What role do children play in the novel? How are Little Joe and Brice Peel intertwined?
18. Explain the changes in Max Doran’s character over the course of the book.
19. “It is not the Conibear trap that kills the beaver, but the drowning that follows.” (196, 249) How well does this phrase, repeated twice in the novel, explain the events in the story?
20. “The primary war was between you and you,” Markus tells Max towards the end of the book, “or me and me, or my grandfather and my grandfather. Isaac against Isaac. Joel against Joel.” (279) Is this true?
21. What do the extended hunting scenes towards the end of the book add to the story?
22. What do the very last words of the novel tell you or change?