There are books you read for a few minutes during your lunch break and there are books you can’t put down for fear of where the story will go if you do. Fiction allows you to escape your own reality for a while, but the best novels have characters that are an extension of ourselves and our world. They say things we’re often afraid to say, they fight the battles we’re up against. Kathleen Winter’s novel on an intersex baby in Labrador is compelling. It forces us to think about the repercussions of hiding the truth, of burying complex identities under the weight of what is “normal” and convenient. Annabel is an ode to those that remain hidden, silenced, and that exist somewhere in between.
“He became unreachable but his body spoke, and Jacinta hated this. She wanted words to come out of his mouth but they came out of his bones.”
Bodies willingly and unwillingly reveal truths. Winter uses them in her novel as a vehicle to share truths about society and as a symbol of the scars silence creates. She draws on the complicated relationship some of us have with our own gender identities, and society’s ignorance and refusal to acknowledge this fact. Things like beauty, pain, anger and love that were not expressed through the words in Annabel are conceded through gestures. The characters may be hiding truths about themselves, but Winter finds a way to allow them to tell their stories figuratively.
“He danced, and watched the shadows of his body on the wall, and tried to connect the music’s beauty with those shadows.”
Winter often mentions dance in the text as a medium for Wayne to feel Annabel’s existence and project it outwards. In a way it’s a breaking of silence, for the girl hiding within him and in other relationships, like his with Wally. The protagonist has not revealed that he is intersex, and so these secret moments of dance are conversations with his identity he can never have in public or with actual words. For Winter, the body is not only a product of society and a medium for expression; it is a rhetoric. Her powerful imagery is an embodiment of the body as a vessel for communication and its ability to let out feelings that would otherwise stay buried.
“It was the spirit a poet might have, or a scientist, or anyone who sees the world not as he or she had been told to see it, with things named and labeled.”
Winter crafts Thomsina’s character as a means of navigating away from silence to tell truth about differences as valuable and positive. The bridges in the postcards she sends Wayne exemplify the breaking of silence. They are beautiful, flawed, complex objects that are in a way a lot like Wayne. She introduces him and readers to the idea that things seeming to be fragmented and incomplete have meaning and can be interpreted as much more.
Winter’s thematically rich novel is a testament to society’s reluctance towards subjects deemed too complex for discourse, and its willingness to maintain the status quo while turning a blind eye to those who suffer the consequences. Though her narrative concerns a small community in Labrador, it remains relevant to anyone else in the world whose voice is muzzled. This book is both relatable and inspirational for minorities and those in the LGBTQ community who are victims of society’s hegemony.
Silence is the illusion of stillness, beneath the surface of which lies an explosive story waiting to be told. Wayne’s tale highlights that some experiences are beyond words, intricate love stories and complicated identities. These are all fluid concepts, always engaged in a process of dynamic evolution. Inherently difficult to define, they certainly warrant societal discourse to be brought into the heart of the world.