Monkey Beach Paperback – Jan 9 2001
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Lisamarie Hill, the protagonist of Eden Robinson's coming-of-age novel Monkey Beach, is a terror. She'll run out of an evacuating car to get a better view of a tidal wave. She'll drag you unconscious to a deserted island with nothing but cigarettes, marshmallows, and the need to get you talking. Whatever her age, she'll ask awkward questions.
Set in the coastal Haisla village of Kitamaat near British Columbia's dauntingly gorgeous Queen Charlotte Islands, Monkey Beach is the story of Lisa and her Haisla community, including uncles involved in First Nations warrior movements, industrious grandmothers with one foot in the grave and the other in various spirit worlds, and the long-armed specter of residential schools. The path to adulthood (and you risk a bloody nose if you call Lisa an adult) for Lisa and her friends is beset by the dangers of substance abuse and family violence but sprinkled with hopes as varied as Olympic gold or, sadly, a "really great truck."
Monkey Beach succeeds as a novel of voice. Narrator and hero Lisa is whip-smart and ever cracking-wise: "The sky, one sheet of pissing greyness, stretches low across the horizon." Plot, however, doesn't come off so naturally. The Big Horrible Event at the story's end seems produced by page count alone, not by character. Voice and character do carry the novel, but the plot feels microwaved where it should be slow-roasted. --Darryl Whetter
From Publishers Weekly
Jimmy Hill's fishing boat is lost at sea, and while his older sister, Lisa, waits for word, her thoughts drift to their childhood in Kitamaat, a small Haisla Canadian Indian community off the coast of British Columbia. Skipping back and forth between the 20-year-old Lisa's anxious vigil and the story of her upbringing, this lyrical first novel by half-Haisla short story writer Robinson (Traplines) sings with honesty. As a child, Lisa is a feisty kid, a fighter. Her heroes are her Uncle Mick, a Native rights activist who teaches her to sing "Fuck the Oppressors," and her grandmother Ma-ma-oo, who instructs her in Haisla ways. Popular culture and tradition go hand in hand in Kitamaat, where a burnt offering to the dead is likely to be a box of Twinkies, and Lisa's sensible, hard-working parents try to give their children the best of both worlds. Jimmy, a straight arrow, shows early promise as a swimmer and trains for the Olympics. Lisa, meanwhile, is thrown off course by the tragic death of Uncle Mick and joins a gang of tough boys in junior high. A few years later, she runs away to Vancouver and a life of drugs and alcohol. Startled at last out of her downward spiral by the spirits that have visited her since she was a little girl, she comes home just in time to watch as her brother's life falls apart and he inexplicably takes a job as a deckhand. Eventually, she sets out alone to meet her parents near the spot where Jimmy's boat was last seen. Lisa is an unsentimental, ferocious, funny and utterly believable protagonist; Robinson's narrative is engrossing but fiercely uncompromising, avoiding easy resolution. Fans of writers like Lois Anne Yamanaka and Sherman Alexie, who blurbs the book, will appreciate this gritty, touching story. Author tour. (Dec. 6)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Although I found the ending vaguely disappointing, I enjoyed reading this skillful account of a Haisla family. You can count Eden Robinson in with the more famous names of Louise Erdrich, David Treuer, Susan Powers, and Leslie Marmon Silko as an honest portrayer of First Nation life. Her talents are rich and varied, so I expect to see many more books from her in the future. Readers of literary fiction won't be disappointed.
Jimmy, Lisa's brother, has set out on a fishing boat and has failed to return although Lisa just knows that she can find answers on Monkey Beach, a place where the supernatural lurks in the shadows. The plot is not linear, but rather goes back and forth through her past and present. Through the stories that she shares about her past, the relationships she had with her Ma-ma-oo and her Uncle Mick take center stage and serve to encourage her spirit and the connection she has with the spirit world. This connection helps her in searching for her brother, however Robinson does not spend as much time on the plot as she does on characterization. The main bulk of the book is spent on her memories which transport the readers to her childhood in Kitamaat, on the western shore of B.C. where she encounters domestic abuse and alcoholism to when she suffers it herself in Vancouver. This book illustrates many painful issues which obscures the main plot of her brother's whereabouts.
The book captures the crisis moment for a native family when they are told their son's (who is portrayed as somewhat of a golden child) boat has disappeared off of the coast. The family's story, along with most of the village, is told in a series of intertwined flashbacks that really demonstrate Robinson's excellent narrative skills.
I won't spoil anything else in the fine tale but would highly recommend the story. Anyone who has read Silko, or even De Lindt, will likely enjoy this tale. Those who have recently taken "authentic Indian names" and are looking to exploit more "Indian culture" will likely be disappointed by the fact that Robinson's book really fits in with more "mainstream" works such as Pynchon and Nicholas Christopher. Perhaps we need a new "cubbyhole" called "Native American Dark Urban Fantasy"?
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Most recent customer reviews
Eden Robinson reveals the fine line between the 'real' world and the spirit world with her beautiful prose.Published 3 months ago by ampersand
I was born and raised in Kitimat. Was a trip down memory lane for me. But also was a great quick easy read.Published 9 months ago by Christy Kirsten
This was a fantastic read! An original Aboriginal gothic story.
Insight into the beautiful, scary, spiritual and physical journey of an Indigenous girl trying to find her... Read more
The characters in this book jumped off the page - beautiful, evocative of the BC coast, full of mystery and intrigue and spirits.. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Penny Talbot
I enjoyed every aspect of this story, a subject which I rarely read about. The descriptions elicit such visual presence. Definitely recommended.Published 22 months ago by Korene Torney
I was first introduced to this book in University. I then read it at lesiure. This story has layers upon layers of meaning. Read morePublished on April 13 2011 by deop