Day 22 of my Book Advent Calendar means an author beginning with “W”. I’ve chosen another Canadian writer.
Day 22: Annabel by Kathleen Winter
This book was a nominee for the 2010 Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The setting is 1960s Labrador. The main character is a hermaphrodite. In deference to the more obvious of the child’s sex organs, Treadway, the father, decides his child will be named Wayne and raised as a boy. Jacinta, the mother, had been tempted to do nothing but accedes to her husband’s wishes; nonetheless, Jacinta nurtures Wayne’s female side in her own secretive way as does Thomasina, a family friend who is the only other person to know about the child’s ambiguous gender.
As the child grows, the parents are divided: Jacinta mourns the daughter who might have been and Treadway pushes the child to become more masculine. Puberty brings all conflict to the surface and Wayne learns the truth about himself, although his other self had been manifesting itself earlier.
This is a novel about secrets and silences. Almost everyone around Wayne backs away from difficult truths as he continues to puzzle through the contradictions of his existence. Wayne’s interest in bridges serves as an analogue for the possibilities inherent in his existence.
The novel is less about chromosomal anomaly than it is about human potential for cruelty and neglect and ignorance as much as for tolerance and generosity and strength. We are shown the human traits that override gender.
Setting plays a big role in how characters are shaped or misshapen, isolated or liberated, together or alone.
The novel challenges ideas of what is normal; it encourages us to accept what is underlining the pain and shame we create when we try to make people fit into stiff categories when they simply can’t.