Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,

Rec: Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (2010) [Book/Fiction]

Robinson, Eden. Monkey Beach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2010. 374 pp.

I think indiachick might enjoy this book. <3

It's about a young Haisla woman living in Kitimaat, British Columbia, whose brother goes missing at sea. The narrative twines back through her entire childhood, articulating the relationships she and her village have with one another, from brother to parents to uncle to aunties to cousins to peers. And the narrator, Lisa, may or may not have psychic powers and the ability to commune with crows and other supernatural beings (which may or may not exist)--whether you choose to read Lisa's abilities as an indication of a world beyond strict rationality or, like those around her, understand it as a sublimation of the deep trauma of loss and mourning is open to preference. The book sets a glacial pace, but the masterful interweaving of the final segment makes it worthwhile, and demonstrates the necessity of exactly that pace to begin with. And it's not without its shiny formal flourishes--from its engagement with Haisla myth to its segments written in the imperative, to vivid descriptions of the human heart and its accompanying viscera.

What ends up being truly remarkable, however, is how un-cinematic its critical moments are. Sea deaths experienced only in their sopping aftermaths, observed from far away; suicides only heard of weeks after the fact; house fires when it's only ashes left; date rapes that cannot be narrated because they cannot be remembered. For a book largely about death, the threat of death, and occasionally its attractiveness, it still manages to sneak up on you in this book. Because the true horror of Monkey Beach is how pervasive "bad" death is across its pages, in the life of this one girl (everyone dies without sensational drama, yet no one dies peacefully); and what that means for Lisa, what it does to Lisa, what it means and does to the community she is a part of.

The book has been the subject of some critique because it straddles what too many people perceive as "literature" versus "ethnic literature," or "indigenous literature," because it contains Haisla elements, and references to both the trauma of the Canadian indigenous residential school system and AIM activism, but isn't Overtly About Indigenous Culture--but honestly, that's what makes it fucking awesome. "ETHNIC" LITERATURE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE ABOUT IDENTITY POLITICS. ABANDON THIS IMPRESSION, WORLD.

TW for book: [some are spoilery] suicide, drug use/addiction, abuse, incest, rape
Tags: academia, fandom recs

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