1. Dunstan enjoys writing the Autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim, because there is no obligation to be “historically correct” or consider evidence. He fills the text with “romance and marvels” but also includes notes of eroticism and sadism, and it sells “like hot cakes.” He writes the book a few days after his encounter with Liesl. Shortly after that, Eisengrim and his crew leave to tour the rest of South America and Europe. Dunstan gives Faustina an expensive necklace as a parting gift, and she kisses him. He also makes Paul promise to contribute to the care of his mother—Paul reluctantly agrees, though he maintains her reputation destroyed his childhood.
Dunstan’s encounter with Liesl—in which he learns to take together the rational and irrational, angelic and devilish, marvelous and degraded—seems to help him achieve a kind of breakthrough in his writing. He writes a text that appeals to readers’ humanity. Dunstan seems as though he is in some ways a new man—he shows his affection for Faustina, he finds a solution to the problem of Mary’s hospital bills, and most of all seems to find a real kind of faith and happiness.
Dunstan is able to transfer Mrs. Dempster to a private care facility. His happiness and relief at being able to do so lead him to make an impulsive decision—he tells Mrs. Dempster that he has found Paul. However, this news pushes her deeper into insanity—she does not understand why Paul is not with her, and how Paul could be an adult, for in her mind he is permanently a little boy. She concludes that Dunstan and the hospital are conspiring against her to keep her away from her son, and she has to be kept in restraints. The nurses tell Dunstan it is probably best if she doesn’t see him for a while.
It is, unfortunately, short-lived. Dunstan makes the well-intentioned mistake of telling Mary about her son, and she is not mentally or emotionally equipped to deal with the information. Dunstan is once again thrown out of Mrs. Dempster’s life—just as he was in Deptford. History repeats itself.
2. Dunstan is depressed by the fact that his own stupidity is to blame for Mrs. Dempster’s renewed misery. In the midst of this loss, Boy marries a woman who does not approve of Dunstan. Boy has become interested in a career in politics, and though he does not fair well at first, he wins over a small percentage of the population—among this percentage is Denyse Hornick, a powerful and influential woman who, like Boy, makes the world work for her. Denyse works to help Boy win the Lieutenant Governorship of Ontario.
Dunstan is prevented form seeing Mary, and on top of that, his only other “friend” has married a woman who does not approve of Dunstan. Perhaps we could see this as fate uprooting Dunstan’s old roots. He has been reborn, after all, and it seems life has changes in store for him. Boy has finally found a woman who measures up to him, and should not need to vent to Dunstan anymore.
Though Denyse seems masculine to Boy in her professional dealings, she is feminine in her love for him, and they are married rather soon after they meet. Caroline and David dislike her, and Dunstan comforts them.
Denyse is like a perfect combination of young businessman and loving woman. She satisfies Boy’s need for femininity as well as his “Corporate Homosexuality.”
3. Denyse has a strong dislike for Dunstan and his odd enthusiasm for religion and saints. She finds interests of this sort repulsive, and Dunstan is no longer invited into their home. Boy smoothes things over by occasionally asking Dunstan to lunch with him at his club. During one of these lunches, Boy defends Denyse’s “rationalism” and tells Dunstan he has become an atheist. Dunstan tells him he is not surprised: Boy worshipped himself as god, and found himself disappointed. He calls atheism “psychological suicide.”
It is revealed that Denyse dislikes Dunstan because she finds his interest in faith, religion, and sainthood to be silly and frivolous. Boy calls this “rationalism.” However, Dunstan sees Denyse and Boy’s newfound atheism to be precisely the opposite: it is “psychological suicide”—by which he seems to mean the willful prioritization of empty “successes” such as Boy’s beyond the pursuit or believe in the miraculous—and suicide is perhaps the most irrational act one could commit.
To Dunstan’s surprise, Boy crumples under this criticism and reveals that he has been severely unhappy, even in the face of all of his success. He tells Dunstan he sometimes wishes he could get in his car and drive away from everything. Dunstan calls this a “mythological wish,” and tells Boy that eventually he will learn how to be old, but that it will take time and effort. Boy looks at him hatefully and calls him a lunatic. Eventually conversation becomes pleasant again.
Boy finally admits that his life, though flashy, glamorous, and successful, has not been fulfilling. Dunstan tries to help him by giving him advice about the place of myth and self-realization in a happy life, but Boy rejects this help, calling Dunstan a lunatic. Dunstan could have helped Boy with his spiritual success just as Boy helped Dunstan with his finances, but Boy is unwilling to receive such help.
4. A year after Boy and Denyse are married, Mrs. Dempster dies. Dunstan thinks his disclosure of Paul’s existence broke her in some way, and led to her death. Dunstan visits on her deathbed—she asks him if he is Dunstable Ramsay, and he tells her he is—she remarks that last she was aware, Dunstable was a young boy. After this she lies quietly until she dies.
Mrs. Dempster dies, and Dunstan blames himself even for this final (and inevitable) tragedy. That Mrs. Dempster doesn’t remember any of the events with Dunstan, while for Dunstan they were the central defining aspects of his life. This is Dunstan’s personal “religion.” Mrs. Dempster may be a saint for him, but he isn’t anything to her.
That night Dunstan weeps for the first time since his mother beat him because of the missing egg. The next day he arranges for Mrs. Dempster’s body to be cremated. Before she is sent away, he prays over her body for forgiveness. He knows he has tried to do his best, but that he has not been loving enough in his dealings with her. Dunstan is alone in the crematory chapel as her body is cremated—for no one else knew her.
Dunstan has not cried since he was a boy and his mother showed him that people are often not what they seem. He still feels guilty, but he is expressing his emotions, he is acting like a feeling, caring human being—this was Liesl’s wish for him, and it appears to be coming true.
5. The following summer, Dunstan goes to Europe hoping to speak to the Bollandists about the success of his latest book, and hopes they will pay him compliments. They do, and what’s more Dunstan hears news that makes him even happier: Padre Blazon is still alive in a hospital in Vienna. He goes to see him immediately.
Dunstan, who we have seen typically likes to deny his want for and appreciation of flattery, goes to Europe admittedly to seek out praise from the Bollandists. This impulse—in addition to being psychologically self-aware and human—also gives him the opportunity to see Padre Blazon again.
Padre Blazon is delighted to see Dunstan, and asks him quickly about his fool-saint. Dunstan recalls Father Regan is the only person whom he has heard use that phrase before, and mentions this to Padre Blazon. Padre says he does not use the phrase in the same way as others, and asks Dunstan to repeat the story of Mary Dempster to him.
Padre Blazon is a true friend and clearly cares about Dunstan. He uses the phrase “fool saint” just as Father Regan did—but, as is typical with him, the religion of others has no effect on his personal religions: certain definitions, Padre Blazon believes, should be left up to the individual.
After he listens to the story, Padre Blazon is tired, and Dunstan goes home for the night, returning in the morning. Padre Blazon tells him he has thought about his fool-saint. He admits few others could ever be convinced of Mary Dempster’s sainthood, but that it should be enough for Dunstan that his saint illuminated his own life.
Padre Blazon tells us what we perhaps already knew—that Mary Dempster, though her sainthood could never be peddled as a widely agreed-upon fact, was a saint for Dunstan. We could say her sainthood is, to use Dunstan’s phrase, “a psychological reality.” And Padre Blazon’s point is that this is enough, to have a personal saint who illuminated just your own life. Public recognition of that saint is unnecessary.
He then changes the subject, and asks Dunstan if he has met the Devil yet. Dunstan tells him briefly about his encounter with Liesl. Padre Blazon is thrilled to hear it, and agrees that a relationship with the Devil is good for one’s character—he supposed Jesus himself learned much from the Devil. Before Dunstan leaves, he tells Padre Blazon that God has not taught him how to be old yet. Padre Blazon responds that he has found God in his old age, and that he is happy.
Liesl is then incorporated into Dunstan’s personal mythology. She is his “devil”—and Padre Blazon’s (unusual but heartening) opinion is that a relationship with the devil, so long as it does not involve personal compromise or a “Faustian” bargain (Faustina’s name is called to mind) is a beneficial thing, that one must come to terms with one’s devils rather than avoid or repress them.
Dunstan leaves to tour other places in Europe. In Salzburg, he recognizes the Madonna that he saw on the battlefield. The face is not Mary Dempster’s face, but the hair did resemble Mrs. Dempster’s. Dunstan does not get a photo or postcard of the statue—nevertheless, he knows, “she is mine forever.”
That Dunstan does not feel he needs to take a photograph of the statue shows that Dunstan is content to accept his own lived reality as “truth”—he doesn’t need photographic—public—proof. The Madonna is “his forever.”
6. Boy Staunton is found dead in his Cadillac in 1968, which had been driven into the Toronto Harbor at high speeds. A stone—pinkish granite the size of an egg—had been mysteriously found in his mouth. The press had a field day: was Boy murdered? Was it suicide? His funeral is a solemn affair. Denyse makes it as close to a state funeral as possible. Denyse grimly asks Dunstan to write “the official life”—she wants an account of Boy’s earlier years and supposes Dunstan is the only man who will be able to provide such an account.
Suddenly we learn that Boy dies under mysterious circumstances. Denyse, though she dislikes Dunstan, still asks him to do her the considerable favor of writing Boy’s official life. She is essentially asking him to consider being a spectator of Boy’s life even after his death. Dunstan has been a spectator his whole life, so perhaps she assumes he will accept this job as he has accepted so many others.
But Dunstan has a heart attack three days later, and decides afterwards that he will no longer do things he does not want to do. Plus, recent events have taught Dunstan about the variability of truth, and he believes that writing such a thing as an “official life” is impossible.
We learn that Dunstan will have a life-altering event just after Boy’s funeral—an event that will teach him not to accept jobs he doesn’t want, and also will teach him about the nature of truth and history.
7. Just Prior to Boy’s Death, In 1968, Magnus Eisengrim travels to Canada. He performs at Colborne College, and after the show walks down the hall with Dunstan where they happen to run into Boy, who is delighted to see them. Boy says he has seen the show and Eisengrim says he remembers seeing him in the audience. Boy asks Eisengrim to explain the Brazen Head illusion, but Eisengrim refuses. Boy is humbled, and wants to get drinks with Eisengrim and Dunstan. He tries to endear himself to Eisengrim by making fun of Dunstan, but it doesn’t work. The three of them go back to Dunstan’s room.
Finally this trio is reunited, even as the novel has ratcheted up the stakes by revealing that both Boy’s death and Dunstan’s heart attack occur just after this encounter. Boy clearly does not recognize Paul, and ill advisedly tries to win Paul over by teasing Dunstan, by making himself look superior. Boy still traffics in appearances above all. What’s more, Boy, who has little appreciation for everything magical, spiritual, or religious, wants immediately to know how Eisengrim pulled off the Brazen head illusion – Boy cares about the “facts” rather than the “lived reality.” Eisengrim will reveal no such secrets to Boy, whom we can assume he recognizes, based on his clear memory of Boy sitting in his audience.
Boy tries to make fun of Dunstan’s bookish living quarters, but Eisengrim remarks that he likes Dunstan’s space, and Boy relents in his teasing. Eisengrim then reveals when Dunstan already knows but Boy does not: that he had previously been known as Paul Dempster. He tells the sad story of his time in the circus, and implies his sexual abuse at the hands of Le Solitaire.
Paul reveals his whole backstory to Boy, wasting no time in explaining away certain misconceptions about his childhood—his life has been difficult, and his current success is certainly not the result of a charmed childhood. Paul’s abuse at the hands of his mentor recall Dunstan’s idea of Boy’s attraction to his own mentees.
He then talks about his childhood in Deptford, and mentions that Boy used to call his mother a whore and taunt him in school. Boy cannot remember doing any such thing, and suggests Paul may be confused. He asks Paul again what his name is. Dunstan interjects and tells him this man is Paul Dempster, and waits for Boy to remember. To his utter shock, Boy can recall no such family ever living in Deptford. Dunstan presses him and realizes he is not lying—Boy has completely erased them from his memory.
Boy harassed Paul as a child—no doubt Paul has carried these cruel words with him for much of his life. Boy, meanwhile, has either repressed the memory of Paul’s entire family completely. This scene illustrates the effect that psychological phenomena like trauma and repression can have on a person’s sense of historical events. It also makes it clear that of the three people involved in the snowball accident and the events after, only Dunstan had any memory of it. Both Mrs. Dempster and Boy do not. The lived experience of these three characters have been entirely different.
Trying to lighten the mood, Boy asks Paul where he got his stage name. Paul responds that it means “wolf,” and notes that while he became a wolf, Boy became a boy. He asks if Boy chose this name because his mother used to call him Pidgy Boy-Boy. Boy demands to know how Paul could know this, and Paul says Dunstan told him once. Dunstan denies this, but he doubts himself—perhaps he did mention it to Paul at some point. Paul tells Dunstan he simply cannot afford to remember a time when he divulged a secret.
Dunstan has always thought himself to be an excellent keeper of secrets (at least until he spilled his life story to Liesl. This conception of himself has in many ways framed the way he conceives of his own childhood—a secretive affair where he kept to himself and shared nothing unnecessary with anyone. But Paul breaks down Dunstan’s personal history with his own, emphasizing yet again that history cannot be separated from psychology.
Paul says he remembers everything about Deptford, especially Mrs. Ramsay, whom he believes was the most hardened and cruel of all. Dunstan surprises him by telling him the story of how his mother kept him alive during those first fragile months of his life. Paul is thrown by this, and asks to smoke one of Dunstan’s cigars, opening a box on his shelf. Instead of cigars, the box holds Mrs. Dempster’s ashes. Paul asks Dunstan why he would keep such a thing in his room.
Now it’s Paul’s turn to discover his memory does not necessarily contain a completely factual account of his own life. He remembers the Ramsays as being a cruel and hardened family, when in fact Mrs. Ramsay cared more about the well-being of the Dempsters (prior to Mary’s indiscretion) than anyone else in Deptford. When the ashes are revealed, it becomes clear that Dunstan’s secret will finally get out.
Dunstan tells him guilt is the reason, and discloses the story of the snowball, and his own role in Mary Dempster’s misfortune. Boy says Dunstan has made a big deal out of nothing, that the difference between them is that Dunstan broods over insignificant events and Boy forgets them. Dunstan hands him a paperweight, and asks him if this jogs his memory. It is a pinkish stone. Boy says he’s seen it a thousand times and it has never reminded him of anything. Dunstan says that this is the stone that Boy enclosed in the snowball that he threw that hit Mary Dempster.
Dunstan finally admits to his role in Paul’s premature birth and Mary Dempster’s mental impairment. He has carried this guilt with him his entire life, and finally admits it in front of two people directly involved in the accident. Boy, on the other hand, seems incapable of guilt. He can simply forget his wrongdoings or dismiss them as insignificant. Even when presented with physical evidence (the stone that Dunstan has kept all these years) he cannot feel any sense of responsibility.
Boy is fed up—he accuses Dunstan of trying to humiliate him in front of Paul, and says that Dunstan is simply jealous that Leola chose him. Paul interrupts, saying he needs to retire for the night. Boy is suddenly courteous, and asks if he can give Paul a ride. Paul agrees. The next morning, after Dunstan hears of Boy’s death, he notices his stone paperweight is gone.
Boy’s belief that all this stems from Dunstan’s jealousy over Leola again emphasizes Boy’s focus on the importance of “having” things, of competing, though it also highlights the profound difference between his and Dunstan’s lived experience. The missing paperweight is reminiscent of the money Paul stole from Dunstan, and suggests now that Paul stole that money as revenge for what he remembered as the Ramsay’s cruelty, just as he steals the stone now to cap off another, more complete, revenge.
8. The Saturday following Boy’s death, Dunstan goes to see Paul’s show, now called The Soirée of Illusions. During the show, someone asks the Brazen Head “Who Killed Boy Staunton?” and the Brazen Head (voiced by Liesl) responds that he was killed by himself, the woman he knew, the woman he did not know, the man who granted his inmost wish, and by “the inevitable fifth, who was keeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone.”
Liesl answer suggests that Boy was killed by himself (he had already in Dunstan’s words committed “psychological suicide”). “The woman he knew” and “the woman he did not know” likely refer to the two versions of Mrs. Dempster—the one he knew as a child, and the version of her he forgot about or neglected to notice. Paul granted Boy’s “inmost wish” by killing him (since he desired to die) and “the inevitable fifth” is Dunstan, whose inevitable (read: fated) role in the story was crucial to the story’s conclusions.
As this happens, Dunstan has his heart attack and falls to the ground. When he wakes in the hospital, he finds a note from Liesl, apologizing for causing his illness, and asking him to come to Switzerland and re-join the crew. “We shall have some high old times before The Five make an end of us all.” Dunstan concludes the letter to the headmaster with this note.
Finally we learn of Dunstan’s fate—the reader can assume that after composing this letter to the headmaster, Dunstan goes to live out his days with Liesl and Eisengrim, finding his spirituality and humanity to be best served by this odd group, living among faith and magic, creating and sharing lived experience, learning from their devils.