Wayne Blake is born in 1968 in Croyden Harbour to Treadway and Jacinta. At birth it is obvious that the then nameless child is not wholly male or female but has a “penis and the one little testicle and the labia and vagina”—a hermaphrodite (intersex). Treadway Blake, a typical Labradorian, takes great comfort in his relationship with animals, the land, and hard work, and lets the need to classify the sex of his child take control of his life. As Wayne starts growing and changing, showing signs of femininity disguised by artificial hormones and boys clothes, Treadway finds it too much to bear, holding “judgment in his body,” and he turns to the woods for comfort and solace.
Thomasina Baikie, a world traveler with a thirst for knowledge and one who immediately accepts Wayne, keeps in touch through postcards each showing a different bridge from around the world. This piques Wayne’s interest and with the help of his father he builds a bridge over a river for him and his friend. Unable to deny what Wayne is, Treadway becomes frustrated and destroys the bridge. Through the rest of his life Wayne has to deal with similar disappointments, various hardships and discrimination. It is through the mythical Annabel, Thomasina’s deceased daughter, that Wayne finds the strength to accept himself.
Much of this novel is about finding one’s voice and regaining power: Wayne’s female voice is silenced from the very beginning as he is shaped into a boy; Jacinta allows her voice to disappear as she acquiesces to Treadway in regards to the sex of their child; Treadway loses his voice to his pride; Wally, Wayne’s closest childhood friend, loses her voice in a spin-the-bottle accident; Thomasina, outcast for her progressive ways, only appears every now and then and mostly in the form of postcards. Basically, most that are close to Wayne lose their voice and thus their power. This forces the reader to take a look at their own judgments because this powerlessness is due to age-old imposed gender roles that exist far beyond the pages of this book.
Gender roles are defined for us at birth in pinks and blues and it is the dreaded yellow and green wardrobe that we can’t wait to get rid of once the boy/girl announcement is made because, subconsciously, we want to classify things so we can understand them. Wayne’s gender lives somewhere on that bridge of his childhood, not totally one side or the other, but somewhere in between.
Always interested in the way we treat people based on the idea of gender, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Winter’s writing is evocative, beautiful and precise; and she can pack a punch with few words. She’s managed to weave a story with controversial themes and the readers subconsciously relate to and sympathize with the characters, their motivations and their judgments.