Shannon Wyss's Reviews > Annabel

Annabel by Kathleen Winter
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's review
Jul 23, 2011

liked it

I finished "Annabel" just a couple days ago. And i have to say that i'm incredibly ambivalent.

On the one hand, i was completely engrossed, especially as Wayne was hitting puberty and starting to discover that, yeah, things were quite as should be expected with his body. I found the book beautifully written, with well-drawn characters and a great physical setting.

On the other hand, i really wonder about Winters' use of a main character who's intersexed. It's clear she comes from a feminist background with a feminist analysis of traditional gender roles. And being a feminist myself, i certainly have no problem with that! But is she just using intersex to explore issues of gender dichotomies? I poked around online and found one interview with her where she says she did "a little" research on intersex before starting the book. And i don't think that "a little" is really enough when you're writing about an oppressed group to which you don't belong and to which you have little exposure, something else to which she admits.

I also tried to find a review of the book by anyone who is intersexed and couldn't. I really want to know what some intersexed folks think about this. I did confirm that it is essentially impossible for anyone who is "diagnosed" as a "true hermaphrodite" (i don't think there's a less offensive version of that phrase) to experience what happens within Wayne's body about half-way through the book. This is a massively huge problem with the plot, especially since that experience proves so pivotal to the book and to Wayne's self-knowledge.

I did, of course, find Wayne as a child completely charming and very much like some of the feminine boys whom i volunteer with. I desperately wanted him to move to Boston (or, heck, *any* big city), find other intersexed people, learn that he wasn't alone in the world, discover the word "intersexed," and get some decent, sensitive medical care. His isolation is so painful.

I really wonder how true-to-life his emotional experience of self is, especially after he finds out that he's intersexed and doesn't have a massive crisis about it. Not that there aren't intersexed folks like that out there. But my understanding is that that sort of reaction (or lack thereof) to finding out what the heck has been going on with your body all your life is pretty unusual.

Is this another instance of feminist writers exploiting intersexed experience to prove a point? I dunno. I don't think that Winters is insensitive to intersexed folks' lives. But it doesn't seem like she's terribly grounded in them, either. All of the symbolism -- the bridges, Wayne being biracial, the intersex itself, etc. -- hint at her having an agenda way beyond being sincere in her portrayal of an intersexed life and experience.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 21, 2011 – Finished Reading
July 23, 2011 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Jennifer Lane I appreciate your investigation "behind the scenes". :)

Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh Kathleen, great review. I was also really annoyed at her inclusion of the medical mis-fact that an intersexed person could inpregnate themselves. Yes this is fiction but coached in a fashion that most reader's would take it at face value. As well the character of Wayne/Annabel was almost emotionless.
I was reading a website devoted to intersex people, a comment I came across might explain that lack of emotion, the author certainly didn't. "I survived childhood by disassociation."

message 3: by Allison (new) - added it

Allison Patterson Thanks for your review. I was also ambivalent about this book. Dissociated is a good way to describe how Wayne/Anabel survived his/her childhood.

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