ANNABEL by Kathleen Winter

Book Quote:

“Wayne lifted his Trans-Labrador Helicopters T-shirt. His breasts were like tinned apricots that have not broken the surface tension in a bowl of cream. No flicker of alarm or warning crossed the doctor’s face. He looked at Wayne’s chest as if it were the most ordinary boy’s chest in the world. Thomasina loved him for it. She could not have looked directly at Wayne’s chest without Wayne’s knowing she felt there was a deep, sad, problem. When Dr. Lioukras looked at Wayne’s breasts, he saw beauty equal to that which he would have seen in the body of any youth, male or female. It was as if he saw the apricots growing on their own tree, right where they belonged.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (JAN 06, 2011)

Being born a hermaphrodite is a very hard road to hoe. It is especially hard when you are born in remote Labrador in 1968. The nearest specialist is miles away and and this is not a town that relishes diversity. Even today, in large urban areas, there is a lot of controversy about what to do about gender when an infant is born with ambiguous sex organs. Some doctors utilize blood tests to determine gender and others go by outward appearance. A true hermaphrodite is born one in 81,000 births.

When Jacinta and Treadway have a home birth, assisted by their friend Thomasina, they are shocked to see that their infant child has one testicle and a vagina. They immediately take the baby to the hospital where the doctor determines the child to be a boy. His sex is determined because his penis is large enough to call him a boy. He is named Wayne and brought up as a son. However, he has a full set of female sex organs within him and feels that he has a shadow female self that Thomasina calls Annabel. Lifelong medication shuts off the development of Wayne’s female self and promotes his development as a male.

Wayne is not told that he is a hermaphrodite. He takes pills every day that he believes are for a blood disorder. His father, Treadway, tries to get Wayne to be “one of the guys” and keeps hoping Wayne will join in with other boys in their activities. However, Wayne is not like that. He likes to draw, is fascinated with bridges, and loves to sit and talk with his mother. Treadway is a trapper who is gone for most of the year and, as tension in the home builds due to Wayne’s condition, he is gone more and more. It is Jacinta who is responsible for most of Wayne’s rearing.

This debut novel is about Wayne’s journey through life and is a treatise on gender, especially its fluidity and ambiguity. Though Wayne lives his life as a boy he is always wrestling with the feeling that there is something else there, something in him that is different from other people. Thomasina knows his secret and it is she who rushes him to the hospital when he is going through puberty because his abdomen is filled with menstrual blood. She decides that it is important for Wayne to know about himself and she breaks the silence, informing him about his uniqueness.

Wayne struggles throughout his adolescent years and finally decides to stop taking all his pills to see what his “real” body and self are like. He is met with varied responses, some accepting and some filled with hatred. He goes in for surgery to have the original surgery reversed. (When he was an infant, his vagina was sewn shut). Now he can experience the world as both male and female.

The reader lives with Wayne throughout his life until his twenties. We yearn, with him, to know more about who he truly is and how he can fit into the world. He has one dear friend from childhood, a girl named Wallis and we are with him as he yearns for her with a physical and emotional longing that is not sexual.

Kathleen Winter has written a very interesting novel about a fascinating subject. However, there is something missing in the characterizations. We never get to know what makes Treadway and Jacinta tick. They go through tremendous changes but it is as though they are left midway in their struggles and the reader is waiting for some completion, some finality in their lives. Thomasina is very well done and she is, in many ways, the star of this book. She is willing to take risks for Wayne and she is the first person to give him a girl’s name – Annabel. The novel, at 461 pages is very long and would have benefited from tighter editing.

I commend the author for taking on this topic. She does it sensitively and there are parts of the novel that flow beautifully with a ring of magical realism to it. Wayne is a beautiful spirit searching for himself. We root for him as he tries to overcome a life that is that is filled with secrets and lies.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Grove Press, Black Cat; Original edition (January 4, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Kathleen Winter
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another hermaphrodite story:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


January 6, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Canada, Class - Race - Gender, Contemporary, Reading Guide

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