Set in the wilds of Canada’s North East Coast in the 1970s and 80s, this is the coming of age tale of Wayne Blake, an intersex child (the word hermaphrodite is used in the book) growing up in a world that his parents feel will never accept him.
Wayne is assigned male after his birth, with the doctors measuring his genitalia and deciding it is long enough to be a penis, rather than a clitoris. This sentences Wayne, who is not told about his condition, to a life of male hormones and fighting against his bodies’ instincts towards the feminine. Although the fact that Wayne is assigned male because that is clearly the preferred state is referred to, if not commented on, this book, for the most part, isn’t about gender and what that may mean.
My favourite character by far in this book was not Wayne, who I considered underdeveloped. Wayne is an aesthetic child, and a lonely teenager still seeing beauty in everything even when been abused or neglected, but Wayne, ultimately, is a bit dull. My favourite story in this book is that of Wayne’s parents Treadway and Jacinta, and Treadway might be one of my favourite literary fathers ever.
Treadway is a man who is also aesthetic, but in a pure honest way. He seeks the beauty of solitude and nature, of woods and open skies and rivers and the sea, not glamour and fakery. Treadway feels trapped in enclosed environments, he belongs in the open out hunting and is fortunate that his life allows him this. He is a reader, he loves philosophy, learning about the world, and yet when it comes to the child he considers he son, because that is how he was brought up, he is at a complete loss. This book more than anything shows how relationships are a learning process, how parents know nothing, there is no manual, you are presented with a child and told ‘bring them up to be like you, but adapted for twenty years in the future, but that might change, but you won’t know, also they might not be anything like you and will hate you for that’.
What I love most is Treadway’s relationship with Jacinta, which suffers due to neither of them being able to communicate at all, with each other or anyone else. Jacinta has female friends her own age who she hangs with and gets drunk and yet never lets it slip that her child was born with what was considered a medical condition. I personally found that very hard to believe. As the couple drift apart as Wayne grows older and so do they, it is the non-verbal commuications that bring them back together. I maintain that chapter 29 of this book is a perfect short story in its own right, I read it on the train home and it made me have a small cry.
This is a good book, but I wouldn’t read it again. It is beautifully written, but Melinda Moustakis writes wilderness better. The ending is a complete cop out and its got Award Winning Screenplay written all over it. I would recommend it, as it’s a valuable read, but don’t get too excited. It is her debut though, and I look forward to her next.