In 1968, in a small town in Labrador, Canada, Treadway and Jacinta Blake have a child. But they find that their baby has both male and female genetalia, and make the difficult decision that their child should have surgery. They raise him as their son and call him Wayne. Only Treadway, Jacinta and a friend named Thomasina know the truth and Wayne is not told. However, as Wayne grows, he discovers an emotional part of himself – his female character, who he calls Annabel, after Thomasina’s deceased daughter.
As Wayne grows older, he and the three adults who share the secret are all affected in different ways, and each faces their own struggle to come to terms with the truth.
When I started this book, I was not sure whether I would like it or not, but as I read on, it pulled me in, and I found compelled to read more about Wayne and his family. The writing is spare, and very beautiful in parts, with the loneliness that the four main characters each feel reflected in the remote and sparsely populated land where they live.
Each character’s struggle manifests itself in different ways, as the book takes us through Wayne’s childhood, school years and beyond. In many ways, very little happens, but there is so much strangeness in the normalcy of their lives, contrasted with the unusualness of Wayne’s body. The story is haunting in parts, and I really felt that all of the characters were realistically and believably drawn; sometimes their behaviour seems questionable, but it’s hard not to wonder what any other ordinary person would do in their situation.
It’s hard to believe that this was a debut novel – it was so emotive and yet under-stated, and treated Wayne’s condition (for want of a better word) with delicacy and compassion. A book which I would definitely recommend.