Bookworm Blog: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

You always jump in with both feet.

There’s nothing hesitant about you; when you’re in, you’re in. You go whole-hog, pedal to the medal, all or nothing. People can count on you because you’re not the least bit wishy-washy. With you, there’s no half-way.

That’s not the case for Wayne Blake, child of Treadway and Jacinta. In the new novel, “Annabel” by Kathleen Winter, Wayne can only go half-way because he’s only half a boy.

On the morning that Wayne Blake entered the world, the midwife, Thomasina Baikie, did what came natural: she checked to see if the baby was male or female, and was shocked.

The child appeared to be both. After tending to the mother, Jacinta, Thomasina broke the news to the new father.

Treadway Blake, like his father and his father’s father, was a trapper in his native Labrador. Spending six months outdoors was something he could live with; a child like Wayne was not. When Thomasina told Treadway that his son was also his daughter, Treadway declared that Wayne was a boy. Jacinta, broken-hearted and already loving the girl inside her son, reluctantly agreed with her husband.

Wayne was never told.

Thomasina, grieving for her own lost family, escaped Labrador.

Jacinta took her child to see doctors.

Treadway finally had his son.

But Wayne wasn’t the son his father wanted. Growing up, Wayne preferred the company of girls, especially that of Wallace Michelin. The friendship he had with Wally was happy and easy because she never noticed that Wayne wasn’t like other boys, even though other children saw it. But then Wayne’s body did something medically unusual and though Treadway held fast on his ideal of a son, it was time for Wayne to learn a truth that explained so much, yet so little.

Confused and ashamed, Wayne knew he could never speak of his secret to anyone in Labrador. He couldn’t talk to his parents about it, and he could never tell Wally, who had drifted from him years ago.

Then Wayne, himself, began to drift. Wandering, he left his home in Labrador and moved to St. John, where he found a job and a friend who, sadly, couldn’t be trusted.

Saddest of all, Wayne realized that he could never be the son his father wanted.

Have you ever asked “Where are we going?” and the answer was “You’ll see when we get there.”? That’s what it’s like reading “Annabel”: you’re along for a trip, the ending of which you really can’t anticipate.

Nuanced, heartbreaking, near-poetic, but with a certain droll, twinkle-in-her-eye sense of humor, author Kathleen Winter tells the story of secrets, desires, dreams, and a family that’s splintered before it gets started. I liked Winter’s characters, even though I wanted to shake the peripheral ones a time or two; and though this story bogs down now and again, I was captivated by it.

If you’re looking for a different sort of book this winter, give this debut novel a try. For readers who love the unusual, “Annabel” ain’t half bad.