Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

3 of 15
480 pages; Grove Press
"That baby is all right the way it is. There's enough room in this world," a friend reassures Jacinta Blake, the mother of a hermaphrodite. It's a hopeful thought. But can someone of two genders really find acceptance—even self-acceptance? Kathleen Winter explores that question in her utterly original debut novel, Annabel. It's 1968 in a remote coastal village in Labrador, Canada, where men spend the brutal winters hunting while their wives keep busy with housework. Roles are well defined, to say the least. Even so, Jacinta imagines her baby's "male and female halves as being ... secretly, almost magically powerful." Not so her husband, Treadway, a kind but intensely practical man who insists on raising Wayne as a boy. But surgery, pills, and Treadway's efforts to steer the child toward manly activities fail to extinguish Wayne's female side, a shadow self he comes to call Annabel. Wayne's innocence—he doesn't understand why his fascination with synchronized swimming so upsets his father—and Treadway's basic goodness make the tension between them especially poignant. While Winter's descriptions of the natural world can slow the narrative, they often create an apt backdrop to a haunting story of family, identity, and the universal yearning to belong.
— Karen Holt