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.”
Annabel is hauntingly gorgeous. I have no other words for it. Kathleen Winter creates a world of full immersion with her storytelling, one where Labrador is realized in sights, sounds, smells, and emotion. I have never been to Labrador, but the describes it so lushly, and mystically, that I was practically shivering with the experience.
Outside of the setting, the people in Annabel are completely real. They are not stereotypes, or one-dimensional, or tools to serve the purpose of the main character, Wayne. Each character has their own story, of varying arc sizes, and they are as real as any childhood memory. In fact, I can’t say Wayne was the sole main character of this book, although it is primarily his/her story being told. Jacinta, Thomasina, Treadway…these characters have their own lives within the story, and I found myself loving them all.
I was so compelled by this story that I read it entirely in two days (and you know I don’t lose sleep willingly very often). It was hard to put down, not because of action sequences and pacing, but because it was so rich and full. I wanted to be Wally, in my childhood, after reading this. And it’s frankly too beautiful and nuanced to be made into a movie. But if more writers turned out stories like this, the world would be a wonderful place.
I recommend this book for lovers of fiction, good characterization, realistic and multi-layered settings, and, heck, I think everyone should read this majesty of a novel.