Annabel

Annabel

3.6 26
by Kathleen Winter
     
 

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Kathleen Winter’s luminous debut novel is a deeply affecting portrait of life in an enchanting seaside town and the trials of growing up unique in a restrictive environment.

In 1968, into the devastating, spare atmosphere of the remote coastal town of Labrador, Canada, a child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both

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Overview

Kathleen Winter’s luminous debut novel is a deeply affecting portrait of life in an enchanting seaside town and the trials of growing up unique in a restrictive environment.

In 1968, into the devastating, spare atmosphere of the remote coastal town of Labrador, Canada, a child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret—the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbor and midwife, Thomasina. Though Treadway makes the difficult decision to raise the child as a boy named Wayne, the women continue to quietly nurture the boy’s female side. And as Wayne grows into adulthood within the hyper-masculine hunting society of his father, his shadow-self, a girl he thinks of as “Annabel,” is never entirely extinguished.

Kathleen Winter has crafted a literary gem about the urge to unveil mysterious truth in a culture that shuns contradiction, and the body’s insistence on coming home. A daringly unusual debut full of unforgettable beauty, Annabel introduces a remarkable new voice to American readers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Isolated as Croyden Harbour may be from the social upheaval of 1968, the tiny village on the southeast Labrador coast plays host to its own revolution in Winter's sincere, self-serious debut. Jacinta and Treadway Blake are like any other couple in town--he's away on the trapline all winter, she's confined to domestic life. But the clarity of traditional gender roles begins to unravel when Jacinta gives birth to a hermaphrodite. Both Treadway and the local doctor decide the baby will be brought up as a boy--he's named Wayne, and his female genitalia are sewn shut. Meanwhile, Jacinta's friend Thomasina, quietly tends to the spiritual development of the child's female identity. Kept in the dark about his condition for most of his childhood, Wayne struggles to live up to the manly standards imposed by his well-meaning if curmudgeonly father, but when adolescence rolls around, Wayne's body reveals a number of surprises and becomes a battleground of physiology, identity, and sexual discovery. Though delivered at times with a heavy hand, the novel's moral of acceptance and understanding is sure to win Winter many fans. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
—A New York Times Editors’ Choice
—A Kirkus Reviews 2011 Top 25 Best in Fiction title
—Short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
—Finalist for a Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction
—Winner of the Independent Literary GLBTQ Award
—A Quill & Quire Top Book of the Year
—A #1 Macleans best seller

“Utterly original . . . A haunting story of family, identity, and the universal yearning to belong.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“[Winter’s] lyrical voice and her crystalline landscape are enchanting.”—The New Yorker

“Absorbing, earnest . . . Beautifully written.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Affecting . . . Winter possesses a rare blend of lyrical brilliance, descriptive power, and psychological and philosophical insight. Her way with fate and sadness recalls The World According to Garp, without the cute irony. A compelling, gracefully written novel about mixed gender that sheds insight as surely as it rejects sensationalism. This book announces the arrival of a major writer.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A novel about secrets and silences . . . What Winter has achieved here is no less a miracle than the fact of Wayne’s birth. Read it because it’s a story told with sensitivity to language that compels to the last page, and read it because it asks the most existential of questions. Stripped of the trappings of gender, Winter asks, what are we?”—The Globe and Mail

“Stunning . . . Annabel is less about gender divides and more about the gossamer lines that connect one to another. A book like this, its topic and beautiful language, the unrelenting sorrow, Winter’s insightful characterizations and utter sensitivity, is difficult to do justice to with these few words. I simply want to tell people: read this book. Read it though you know little or nothing about its subject or the author. It will open you up. It will change you.”—The Ottawa Citizen

“Beautifully observed . . . Reminiscent of Middlesex, Winter’s treatment of such a delicate issue is amazing and incredibly engaging. Her novel is written with immense sensitivity and grace, not to be missed.”—Bay Area Reporter

“[A] beautiful novel . . . Lyrical . . . [Winter] captures the way children simultaneously understand and don’t understand, the way parents simultaneously protect and harm their children, the way the truth both imprisons us and sets us free. She embodies these paradoxes and breathes new life into them. . . . Annabel is a novel that evokes deep emotion . . . Simple, touching, real, absolutely convincing and sympathetic in its portrayal of well-intended people in their attempts to deal with a person who defies the most basic categorization: the first question we ask when we hear a baby has been born.”—The Rumpus

“A beautiful book, lyrical and compelling . . . Annabel's strength lies in probing the dilemma of sexuality and self-knowledge. I have never read such an intimate portrait of a person struggling to live inside a self that the world sees as a dreadful mistake.”—The National Post (Canada)

“Sincere . . . The novel’s moral of acceptance and understanding is sure to win Winter many fans.”—Publishers Weekly

“[An] aching tale of . . . identity, acceptance and family. . . . Fluid and poised . . . Annabel is a stunning and stirring debut that signals the long-overdue arrival of a literary talent.”—The Chronicle Herald

“An astounding achievement . . . Remarkably lucid and forthright . . . Wonderfully exhilarating . . . In Winter’s deft hands, Labrador becomes a magical land of mystical wildlife and magnetic earth. . . . Finely observed detail and gut-wrenching honesty, together with some rich characters and a perfectly rendered world, make Annabel a rare treat.”—Winnipeg Free Press

“A mesmerizing combination of crisp language, deep empathy for her well-wrought characters, and a world-savvy wisdom. [Winter] delivers her story with a gracefulness that matches the mystique of Labrador and the tenderness required to carry this story . . . showing us the humanity that overrides gender and age, and the basic human traits and desires that unite us all. . . . Destined to be one of the biggest novels out of Newfoundland this year, this is a story of isolation and a communication breakdown that breaks a family down, and breaks the reader down along with them.”—The Telegram (St. John’s, Canada)

“[A] fascinating debut novel . . . Annabel is a novel about divisions, not only between the sexes but also between social classes and, perhaps most crucially, ways of being. . . . Both the fear and the beauty [of Wayne’s condition] are given vivid expression in this finely crafted novel.”—The Star (Toronto)

“Dramatic, thematically rich . . . [with] skillful prose . . . An impressive first novel.”—Quill & Quire

Annabel is a beautiful book, brimming with heart and uncommon wisdom. Life is ambiguity and flux and mystery and Winter has written a gorgeous, searing love-letter to the possibilities that lie just below the surface of the everyday.”—Michael Crummey, author of the Canadian bestseller, River Thieves

Library Journal
Winter's first novel tells the story of an intersex child born in the late 1960s in a small, rural town in Canada and raised as a boy. His parents try to protect Wayne from harm, each in his or her own way; his father tries to interest him in the wilderness skills that men in their community use to make a living, but his mother refuses to discourage his interest in more feminine pursuits. Wayne doesn't learn of his intersexuality until a medical emergency reveals his condition to him. Though he tries to be a boy to fit in, he is preoccupied by the girl that he knows lives within him; he has to leave home and quit his hormone therapy to allow his body to be as ambiguous as he feels inside. Winter's lyrical language contrasts with the characters' discomfort about Wayne's secret. VERDICT Readers interested in literary explorations of gender, such as Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex, will appreciate this novel as well. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]—Amy Ford, St. Mary's Cty. Lib., Lexington Park, MD
Kirkus Reviews

In a remote coastal town in Newfoundland in the 1970s, a young person of mixed gender struggles for identity, acceptance and understanding

Joining a select group of novels including Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex (2002) and Alan Friedman's Hermaphrodeity (1972), Winter's affecting first novel is the story of Wayne Blake, who is subjected to special corrective surgery as a newborn, raised as a boy and given injections and hormone pills to maintain his masculine traits. His mother, Jacinta, a cosmopolitan-minded outsider from the city of St. John's, is torn over quashing his female qualities and interests but wants even less to go against the wishes of his closed-off father, Treadway, a trapper away for months at a time. Only Thomasina, a worldly, free-spirited midwife who privately calls the child Annabel—after the daughter she lost in a freak boating accident that also claimed her husband—asserts that nature should be allowed to take its course: "That baby is all right the way it is. There's enough room in this world." Even as Wayne unhappily goes along with the program, his body asserts its true self, most shockingly when doctors operating on him to release trapped menstrual blood discover a fetus. As Wayne comes of age, he must endure losing his closest friend Wally (a girl), being viciously attacked by bullies after he moves away to attend college and strange looks when he quits the drugs and assumes his natural self. The Montreal-based Winter, a native of Newfoundland, possesses a rare blend of lyrical brilliance, descriptive power and psychological and philosophical insight. Her way with fate and sadness recalls The World According to Garp,without the cute irony.

A compelling, gracefully written novel about mixed gender that sheds insight as surely as it rejects sensationalism. This book announces the arrival of a major writer.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780224091275
Publisher:
Cape, Jonathan Limited
Publication date:
03/28/2011

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

“Papa!”
The blind man in the canoe is dreaming.
Why would a white caribou come down to Beaver River where the woodland herd lives? Why would she leave the Arctic tundra, where light blazes incandescent, to haunt these shadows? Why would any caribou leave her herd to walk, solitary, thousands of miles? The herd is comfort. The herd is a fabric you can’t cut or tear, passing over the land. If you could see the herd from the sky, if you were a falcon or a king eider, it would appear like softly floating gauze over the face of the snow, no more substantial than a cloud. “We are soft,” the herd whispers. “We have no top teeth. We do not tear flesh. We do not tear at any part of life. We are gentleness itself. Why would any of us break from the herd? Break, apart, separate, these are hard words. The only reason any of us would become one, and not part of the herd, is if she were lost.”

The canoe, floating in a steady pool at the deep middle, has black, calm water around it, with froth floating on top from the foam around and above and below. The white caribou stands still, in a patch of sunlight between black tree trunks, staring at the man and the girl inside the vessel. The moss beneath the caribou’s hooves is white and appears made of the same substance as the animal, whose outlines are barely there, considering the light above and below it. It could have been poured from light itself, and made of light, as if Graham Montague and his daughter have dreamed it into being.

“Papa?” Annabel stands up in the boat. She has been told, from the time before she could walk, not to do this, but she does it. For a moment the canoe stays still, then the girl outstretches her arms toward the enchantment, this caribou that now, she sees, wears a mantle of glittering frost around its shoulders and magnificent chest. In fact there are sparkles of frost throughout its white coat, and she cannot believe her father is both blind and asleep. She cannot believe life would be so unfair that a man could miss such a sight, and she stretches out her hands, which are long, and which her father has loved, and for whose practical industry and fruition he has laboured and hoped, and the canoe capsizes in the river’s calm, deep heart. It flips easily, in an instant. The gun goes down, the provisions float or go down according to their lightness and the waterfastness of their packaging.

Graham Montague has never had to swim, and he does not know how, and neither does Annabel, his daughter.

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Meet the Author

Kathleen Winter's Annabel was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, short-listed for The Orange Prize for Fiction, and a finalist for all three of Canada's major literary awards: The Scotiabank Giller Prize, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. Her first collection of short stories, boYs, was the winner of both the Winterset Award and the 2006 Metcalf-Rooke Award. A long-time resident of St. John's, Newfoundland, Winter now lives in Montreal.

Visit her blog at kathleenwinter.livejournal.com

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