13 April 2011

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

There are a couple of things I love about reading well written literature by Canadian authors that I sometimes miss in the writings of other nationalities: the connection to things that are real in my life, like Maple Leaf bologna; and the (really hard to find the right word here) Canadian-ness of the characters. If you've spent any time in Newfoundland and Labrador, I'm sure you would find an even deeper connection to this book than I did. The setting, the landscape, community and characters were familiar to me from the first page. I love that! I also really enjoyed watching the growth and transformation of the characters over the course of the novel.

Wayne/Annabel was born in Labrador in 1968. He was born at home and he was born both male and female. Because I found the book so interesting, I did what I tend to do, and googled some 'facts'. It is up for debate whether there is such a thing as a true hermaphroditic human and still more unlikely that an 'intersex' body (using politically correct terminology) could or would behave in the some of the ways Wayne/Annabel's body did in the book. I would be very interested to hear from an intersex person who has read the book. I wonder how well Kathleen Winter captured the experience of being an intersex person.

This story had the potential to become too bizarre for the reader to believe. It had the potential to become bogged down in a physiology and psychology too foreign for the reader to bear. It didn't do either of these things. Although I, occasionally, felt Ms Winter walked a fine line, she managed to keep the novel real. A story about a family and community faced with all of the normal difficulties one would expect in a small, isolated place and, one family, trying to keep a secret in a place where secrets are notoriously difficult to keep. Each of the main characters in this book struggles to be true to who they really are and, as we would expect, some succeed better than others.

My favorite quote in the entire 461 pages (OK, maybe my favorite quote of all time):
'Vengence is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.
 "When?" asked Treadway. "When is the Lord planning on getting around to it? Because I can have it done by this time tomorrow."'
pg 446

If I were to describe this book in just a couple of words, (and, of course I am about to do just that) I would say engaging and worthwhile.

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