Monkey Beach: A Novel

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Overview

Eden Robinson's first book, a collection of stories titled Traplines, earned high praise from critics: "Expertly rendered" (New York Times Book Review), and "Captured my attention and permeated my subconscious" (Toronto Globe and Mail). The book was named a New York Times Notable and won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize from the Royal Society of Literature.
Robinson's mastery is confirmed in Monkey Beach, the first full-length work of fiction by a Haisla writer and an ...

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Overview

Eden Robinson's first book, a collection of stories titled Traplines, earned high praise from critics: "Expertly rendered" (New York Times Book Review), and "Captured my attention and permeated my subconscious" (Toronto Globe and Mail). The book was named a New York Times Notable and won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize from the Royal Society of Literature.
Robinson's mastery is confirmed in Monkey Beach, the first full-length work of fiction by a Haisla writer and an unforgettable story set in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. This powerful novel reminds us that places, as much as people, have stories to tell.
Five hundred miles north of Vancouver is Kitamaat, an Indian reservation in the homeland of the Haisla people. Growing up a tough, wild tomboy, swimming, fighting, and fishing in a remote village where the land slips into the green ocean on the edge of the world, Lisamarie has always been different. Visited by ghosts and shapeshifters, tormented by premonitions, she can't escape the sense that something terrible is waiting for her. She recounts her enchanted yet scarred life as she journeys in her speedboat up the frigid waters of the Douglas Channel. She is searching for her brother, dead by drowning, and in her own way running as fast as she can toward danger. Circling her brother's tragic death are the remarkable characters that make up her family: Lisamarie's parents, struggling to join their Haisla heritage with Western ways; Uncle Mick, a Native rights activist and devoted Elvis fan; and the headstrong Ma-ma-oo (Haisla for "grandmother"), a guardian of tradition. Haunting, funny, and vividly poignant, Monkey Beach gives full scope to Robinson's startling ability to make bedfellows of comedy and the dark underside of life. Informed as much by its lush living wilderness as by the humanity of its colorful characters, Monkey Beach is a profoundly moving story about childhood and the pain of growing older—a multilayered tale of family grief and redemption.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
"Find a map of British Columbia.... Beneath Alaska, find the Queen Charlotte Islands. Drag your finger across the map...to the coast, and you should be able to see a large island." The place described is the land of the Haisla, reservation land famous for its "black bears that are usually white." First novelist Eden Robinson is a native of this unique landscape, and her debut novel, told in the voice of a fiercely independent young woman, rings with authenticity. In Monkey Beach, she has drawn the sensitive and rebellious character of Lisa Hill, a fiery 20-year old whose little brother, Jimmy, is lost at sea in the opening scene. As the Coast Guard searches for Jimmy's missing boat, which had headed out salmon fishing several days earlier, Lisa sits at home, smoking furiously and ruminating over their shared childhood. In flashbacks illuminating the tethered lives of the Hill family, Robinson introduces several unforgettable characters: Lisa's matriarchal grandmother, Ma-ma-oo, who refuses to relinquish the Haisla traditions; her parents, who struggle to commingle ways both Western and Native American; and her Uncle Mick, a Native American activist and Elvis fan. But the truly indelible portrait painted is of Lisa, who struggles between physical reality and the spirit world that is very much a part of her psyche. Refusing to believe the reports of her brother's death, Lisa goes in search of him herself, only to discover that she's running from her own life rather than trying to save his. Monkey Beach is a moving, deeply engaging debut. (Winter 2001 Selection)
From the Publisher
" A startlingly accomplished first novel, artfully constructed, in places very funny, in others deeply haunting..." The Washington Post

"Lively and surprising, and ultimately addictive." Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Jimmy Hill's fishing boat is lost at sea, and while his older sister, Lisa, waits for word, her thoughts drift to their childhood in Kitamaat, a small Haisla Canadian Indian community off the coast of British Columbia. Skipping back and forth between the 20-year-old Lisa's anxious vigil and the story of her upbringing, this lyrical first novel by half-Haisla short story writer Robinson (Traplines) sings with honesty. As a child, Lisa is a feisty kid, a fighter. Her heroes are her Uncle Mick, a Native rights activist who teaches her to sing "Fuck the Oppressors," and her grandmother Ma-ma-oo, who instructs her in Haisla ways. Popular culture and tradition go hand in hand in Kitamaat, where a burnt offering to the dead is likely to be a box of Twinkies, and Lisa's sensible, hard-working parents try to give their children the best of both worlds. Jimmy, a straight arrow, shows early promise as a swimmer and trains for the Olympics. Lisa, meanwhile, is thrown off course by the tragic death of Uncle Mick and joins a gang of tough boys in junior high. A few years later, she runs away to Vancouver and a life of drugs and alcohol. Startled at last out of her downward spiral by the spirits that have visited her since she was a little girl, she comes home just in time to watch as her brother's life falls apart and he inexplicably takes a job as a deckhand. Eventually, she sets out alone to meet her parents near the spot where Jimmy's boat was last seen. Lisa is an unsentimental, ferocious, funny and utterly believable protagonist; Robinson's narrative is engrossing but fiercely uncompromising, avoiding easy resolution. Fans of writers like Lois Anne Yamanaka and Sherman Alexie, who blurbs the book, will appreciate this gritty, touching story. Author tour. (Dec. 6) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Robinson, who is of Haisla and Heiltsuk descent, portrays contemporary Haisla culture from the perspective of Lisa, a young Haisla woman coming of age in Kitamaat, BC. Just as she is recovering from a debilitating depression triggered by a series of deaths in her family, Lisa learns that her brother has disappeared. Before each death, she was visited by a ghost--visitations that increased when she approached adolescence--and this contact with the spirit world is a metaphorical bridge from old Haisla ways to her contemporary life. Confronted with so much loss, she must struggle to continue living. Yet as she accepts that her brother, too, has died, she comes to recognize that there is still a purpose to her own life. Robinson, who won the Winifred Holtby Prize for her first publication, the story collection Traplines, wanders somewhat in this first novel, but it is full of lore, landscape, familial closeness, and deeply expressed anguish. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Lisamarie Hill is a Haisla, living on her people's Kitamaat reservation, north of Vancouver, BC. Now 21, she is motoring alone up the Douglas Channel to search for her younger brother, Jimmy, feared lost during his first run as a deckhand on a fishing boat. The narrative flashes back to her childhood. At once a typical young girl and one chosen to carry on the legacy of her forebears, Lisa was an ungovernable spirit who was always in trouble. She felt pulled apart by the desire for acceptance by her peers, and the need to spend her time with her grandmother. Ma-ma-oo taught her of nature's wonders, and of the "old time" when "-Animals and humans could switch shapes, simply by putting on each other's skins-." Lisa heard voices, saw things others didn't, and was visited on moonlit nights by a tiny red-haired figure who perched on her jewelry box. At 16, crushed by her grandmother's illness and eventual suicide, Lisa left school and went to Vancouver and spent her inheritance on drink and drugs. Finally, shocked by news of the suicide of a former boyfriend, she returned to Kitamaat to finish high school. Now, traveling up the channel, Lisa stops at Monkey Beach, where she and Jimmy reestablished their relationship after her return home. There she encounters her brother and grandmother in the watery spirit world, but Lisa is sent back, left alone on the beach. Teens will be fascinated by this artfully told tale. It is sad and funny, and at times shocking, but always real in its portrayal of a young girl growing into womanhood.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618219056
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Eden Robinson is a thirty-one-year-old Haisla woman who grew up near Kitimat, British Columbia. Her previous collection, TRAPLINES, was awarded the Winifred Holtby Prize for the best first work of fiction by a Commonwealth writer and was a New York Times Editor's Choice and Notable Book of the Year.

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Read an Excerpt

Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla.La'es, they say, La'es, la'es.I push myself out of bed and go to the open window, but they launch themselves upward, cawing. Morning light slants over the mountains behind the reserve. A breeze coming down the channel makes my curtains flap limply. Ripples sparkle in the shallows as a seal bobs its dark head.La'es—Go down to the bottom of the ocean. The word means something else, but I can't remember what. I had too much coffee last night after the Coast Guard called with the news about Jimmy. People pressed cups and cups of it into my hands. Must have fallen asleep fourish. On the nightstand, the clock-face has a badly painted Elvis caught in mid-gyrate. Jimmy found it at a garage sale and gave it to me last year for my birthday-that and a card that said, "Hap B-day, sis! How does it feel to be almost two decades old? Rock on, Grandma!" The Elvis clock says the time is seven-thirty, but it's always either an hour ahead or an hour behind. We always joke that it's on Indian time. I go to my dresser and pull out my first cigarette of the day, then return to the window and smoke. An orange cat pauses at the grassy shoreline, alert. It flicks its tail back and forth, then bounds up the beach and into a tangle of bushes near our neighbour's house. The crows are tiny black dots against a faded denim sky. In the distance, I hear a speedboat. For the last week, I have been dreaming about the ocean-lapping softly against the hull of a boat, hissing as it rolls gravel up a beach, ocean swells hammering the shore, lifting off the rocks in an ethereal spray before the wavesmake a grumbling retreat. Such a lovely day. Late summer. Warm. Look at the pretty, fluffy clouds. Weather reports are all favourable for the area where his seiner went missing. Jimmy's a good swimmer. Everyone says this like a mantra that will keep him safe. No one's as optimistic about his skipper, Josh, a hefty good-time guy who is very popular for his generosity at bars and parties. He is also heavily in debt and has had a bad fishing season. Earlier this summer two of his crew quit, bitterly complaining to their relatives that he didn't pay them all they were due. They came by last night to show their support. One of my cousins said they've been spreading rumours that Josh might have sunk his Queen of the North for the insurance and that Jimmy's inexperience on the water would make him a perfect scapegoat. They were whispering to other visitors last night, but Aunt Edith glared at them until they took the hint and left.I stub out the cigarette and take the steps two at a time down to the kitchen. My father's at the table, smoking. His ashtray is overflowing. He glances at me, eyes bloodshot and red-rimmed.Did you hear the crows earlier?" I say. When he doesn't answer, I find myself babbling. "They were talking to me. They said la'es. It's probably—""Clearly a sign, Lisa," my mother has come up behind me and grips my shoulders, "that you need Prozac." She steers me to a chair and pushes me down. Dad's old VHF is tuned to the emergency channel. Normally, we have the radio tuned to CFTK. He likes it loud, and the morning soft rock usually rackets through the house. As we sit in silence, I watch his cigarette burn down in the ashtray. Mom smoothes her hair. She keeps touching it. They both have that glazed, drawn look of people who haven't slept. I have this urge to turn on some music. If they had found the seiner, someone would phone us. "Pan, pan, pan," a woman's voice crackles over the VHF. "All stations, this is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard." She repeats everything three times, I don't know why. "We have an overdue vessel." She goes on to describe a gillnetter that should have been in Rupert four days ago. Mom and Dad tense expectantly even though this has nothing to do with Jimmy.At any given moment, there are two thousand storms at sea.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 Love Like the Ocean 1
Part 2 The Song of Your Breath 139
Part 3 In Search of the Elusive Sasquatch 295
Part 4 The Land of the Dead 367
Acknowledgments 376
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2005

    Beautifully Haunting

    Eden Robinson pulls you deep into the mind and spirit of the main character whose life is very different than mainstream America. The story is uplifting in spite of the very serious incidents involved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2001

    Beautiful and enchanting

    Those are the only words I can use to describe this book. The blurry lines between reality and myth move smoothly and calmly, never forgetting to bring the reader along. Written in an easy flow of language, I was never left wondering what was going on or why. My only complaint would be the quickness with which it ends, almost abruptly. Otherwise, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to enjoy a fleeting moment in one girls life, a moment that creates an expansive landscape and story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2009

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