I was very excited to read the book Annabel by Kathleen Winter, which is about an intersex person. Annabel had become a popular read, and I had heard it mentioned by a variety of people as an excellent book.
And indeed, Winter’s writing style is beautiful and captivating. As soon as I started reading I felt emotionally hooked and had that great feeling of “I just gotta keep reading.”
The book begins with an eloquently crafted story of a baby who is born with what appears to be both sets of genitals. We feel the mother’s torment when the decision is made to have the baby undergo surgery. It goes against all her mothering instincts, but she seems to be surrounded by forces greater than her. The child grows up, and Winter continues to capture the emotional and social difficulties the child faces in a thoughtful and poignant way.
But then some medical issues arise. And at this point, if I wasn’t so emotionally involved with this book and relating to it in a personal way as a transgendered person, I would have simply tossed the book aside in disappointment. Winter clearly had not bothered to do any research into the types of things that are biologically real. The details of her story line with regard to medical issues made no sense at all.
But since I was personally involved, I was not merely disappointed, but disgusted and outraged.
The story veers off into a fantasy world where an intersex person can impregnate him/herself. Granted, Winter never says her story is based on real-life possibilities. But even so … she has presented the reader with a character whose vagina has been sewn shut at birth and who she gave a non-functioning penis. So self-impregnation — how in the world? Just some entirely mystical event that the reader is expected to uncritically swallow (along with a few others) and then happily read on.
Or not so happily. These events are followed soon after by her character beginning to nurture his female side and changing his clothing style — and bingo, an elaborate assault and rape scene ensues.
Really? A book that starts out so thoughtful and insightful turns into a novel with bizarre and sensationalist events that seem geared to appeal to readers’ emotions and give them a really good ride for their money.
And well, if that’s what you want from a book, you can go for it with this one.
But I like my books to make sense, to have accurate information in them, and to serve as an educational tool. When asked about how and why she wrote this book, Winter stated that she found the subject intriguing, but had not actually interviewed a single intersex person. She merely followed her “artist’s intuition.”
When an author chooses as their subject matter an already marginalized and misunderstood subgroup of the population, does not bother to do any research but spins a bizarre yarn about them, I think the end result is a very offensive book.