Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

This was a really interesting book and certainly deserving of its Giller nomination.  The story is about Wayne, an unusual baby born into a small community in Labrador.  Unusual because he is a hermaphrodite.  The only people who know Wayne has both male and female sex organs are his parents and a trusted neighbour, Thomasina.  Wayne's father and his doctors decide he should be raised as a boy so sew up his vagina and feed him with hormones.  His mother mourns the loss of her daughter, but goes along with her husband's decision.

Wayne's father tries hard to turn him into a typical Labrador boy - teaching him hunting, trapping and other masculine pursuits.  But Wayne is interested in synchronized swimming, drawing and is particularly fascinated by bridges.  His best friend is a young girl who dreams of being an opera singer.

On the day Wayne is born, Thomasina loses her husband and daughter Annabel to drowning.  When Wayne is young she calls him Annabel when they are alone.  He hears it as the nickname "Amble" and thinks nothing of it.  Though he is given daily medication, Wayne is not told the truth until he hits puberty and has to be given even stronger hormones to suppress his female side.

After high school Wayne feels trapped in Labrador and moves to St. John's where he also experiments with stopping his hormone treatments.  This has both good and terrible consequences for him when some local boys find out.  But, somewhat surprisingly, it also strengthens his relationship with his father who wishes to protect his daughter that he'd always treated as a son.

At times the descriptive passages got a bit overwhelming, though they certainly painted a clear picture of both small town life and St. John's.  I did skim some of them though I'm sure they're what attracted the Giller judges.  In all it was worth wading through them to see how the main story unfolded.

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