Annabel by Kathleen Winter

This is one of those times where I actually have absolutely no clue what to say about a book.

Annabel is a novel about a child in Labrador, Newfoundland, who was born a hermaphrodite. His father, Treadway, decided that he would be raised a boy, and his female genitalia were sewn closed. He was named Wayne.

As Wayne grew up, he was put on a regiment of medications and hormones to ensure that he would develop the male body his parents wanted. For most of his early life, Wayne had no idea he was anything but a normal boy- although there are some subtle abnormalities, if you look very closely, which are only seen by Wayne’s parents, Treadway and Jacinta.

This book has apparently been getting a lot of attention recently, but I first heard about it when my sister grabbed it off a shelf at Barnes & Noble and gave it to me. At 461 pages, it took me about five days to finish because it was completely engrossing. Though it was only published earlier this year, the writing seems like it comes from an older time- and actually, the book begins in the 1960’s.

It’s amazing how much I was expecting from this book that I didn’t get. For example, if you, as a teenager, were to suddenly discover this hidden fact about your body, how would you react? I was really hoping for some deep soul-searching and identity crises, but for a hundred pages or so after the revelation it was like Wayne assimilated the information flawlessly. For this reason, though it was a good book, there were parts that were unsatisfying.

The book revolves around five major (and semi-major) characters: Wayne, Treadway, Jacinta, Thomasina (a friend of Treadway and Jacinta, who was present at Wayne’s birth), and Wally Michelin (a childhood friend of Wayne whom we follow even after they separate). So the story is less like an adventure into the psyche of a hermaphrodite (as I expected), and more like an exploration on what this knowledge means for the people in his life. The most jarring perspective is of Wayne’s father, Treadway, who can seem unsympathetic at times, but is actually heartbreakingly lost. Keep in mind that this book takes place in Labrador in the 60’s, where men were Men and women were Women. Treadway was a trapper, an outdoorsman, very close to the land. Jacinta is a homemaker who keeps her head down. Having a child who seems to be somewhere in between is something neither of them know how to deal with, at all.

Thomasina suffers a personal loss very early into the book, and her character is colored by her lack of ties to any one place. For years during Wayne’s childhood, Thomasina travels around the world, sending him postcards with pictures of bridges and trying to guide him through his problems from across the ocean. Much of the wisdom Thomasina passes on turns out to be indispensable, and it is to her that Wayne turns when he doesn’t know what to do.

Wally Michelin is a girl who grew up with Wayne in Labrador. When they were children, they became friends of a lettuce sandwich, and for months she was the only close friend Wayne had. Together, they built a bridge-fort-thing as a hideaway, sort of a clubhouse. Wally wanted nothing more than to be a singer and perform opera. Then a series of things happens that makes this goal seem impossibly far away, and she and Wayne lose touch. They find each other again years later, when they’re both young adults.

This book is definitely something different. It was worth the read, and I don’t regret buying it, but I probably won’t read it again anytime soon. Perhaps in a few years. I can’t place exactly what it was about it that I didn’t feel worked, so you should all just read it for yourselves and see what it’s all about. If you don’t want to buy it, well, that’s what libraries are for, isn’t it?

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm  Comments (2)