Saturday, January 8, 2011


Good Evening Flower!

I didn't come down with last night's rain or just fall off the turnip truck. I have Been Around. I have experienced Life. I have traveled. Hell I've eaten sushi and where I come from that qualifies me for Algonquin Round Table level of sophistication. But. I never thought that in all my born days I would be able to say that I have read not one but two novels about hermaphrodites. Two, my friend, two because I am just that worldly.

Hermaphrodite novel number two is Annabel by Kathleen Winter. Annabel is more commonly known as Wayne. He was born to Treadway and Jacinta in a remote coastal town in Labrador, Canada. The secret of Wayne's birth is known only to his parents, the doctor and the neighbor, Thomasina. It is Treadway and the doctor who decide that the neither fully male or female baby will be raised as his son, Wayne. The doctor physically sews up Wayne's female areas (So it's a craft book too.) and what's done is done as far as Treadway is concerned. Wayne spends his young life confused about many things and unhappy at not being able to live up to his Father's expectations. In his inner life, Wayne acknowledges his more girlish interests and shamefully thinks of that part of himself as Annabel, Thomasina's nickname for him.

Prior to Wayne's birth Treadway and Jacinta's lives were the same as their neighbors and their parents before them. Treadway is gone for long stretches of time hunting and trapping and Jacinta takes care of all things domestic. The couple is as ill suited to one another as Wayne/Annabel is to his body. Treadway and Jacints are intellectually and emotionally unprepared (Would anyone not be?) to raise their unique son but each tries their best to solve the problem of their son's identity. Treadway attempts to immerse Wayne in traditional masculine pursuits and his way of life in hopes of burying anything feminine. Jacinta loves her son but mourns the daughter she lost to Treadway. Jacinta and Thomasina secretly feed Wayne's female side. When Wayne hits adolescence and his body betrays itself he must take control.

Annabel was on the short list for the 2010 Giller Prize and it is easy to see why. Kathleen Winter's extraordinary writing tells a bizarre, almost science fiction like story without melodrama, camp or pity. Her writing has a poet's color and a documentarian's precision. She has made all of the main characters three dimensional. Each of them has a duality of identity that mirrors Wayne's. There are instances when Winter can be a little preachy but overall Winter's novel about identity, acceptance, morality and love is a powerful reading experience.
Can I compare Annabel with hermaphrodite novel #1, Middlesex? Sure why not. They are both extremely well executed and interesting novels, but...I'm giving the win to Middlesex. I liked Calliope/Cal better than Wayne/Annabel. Middlesex has all the novel upholstery that I adore: big families, long histories and storytelling all over the place.

However. The covers? A complete out of the park, grand slam home run for Annabel! The U.S. cover is one of the best I've seen in quite a while. It's alluring and repellent without being over the top or too geared toward appealing to a specific gender. The Canadian cover has a slightly mysterious quality but it's too pretty, too tame. The cover of Middlesex is a horror show. In technical publishing jargon it's Boring.


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