Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2000
Monkey Beach is a story of a young First Nations woman growing up on the rugged coast of British Columbia. It is filled with intense landscapes, finely drawn characters, great humor and mysterious beings.
Lisamarie grows up in Kitamaat, a reserve that is home to the Haisla people. She is tough, independent and is visited by ghosts and spirits. Her life is filled with mystery and she is surrounded by people who are struggling to blend native traditions with modern life. In clear, direct language Robinson blends modern times with distant memories.
In a time distant and vague from the one we know now, she told me, flesh was less rigid. Animals and humans could switch shapes simply by putting on each other’s skins. Animals could talk, and often shared their knowledge with the newcomers that humans where then. When this age ended, flesh solidified. People were people, and animals lost their ability to speak in words. Except for medicine men, who could become animals, and sea otters and seals, who had medicine men too. They love to play tricks on people. Once a women was walking along the shore and she met a handsome man. She fell in love and went walking with him every night. Eventually, they made love and she found out what he really was when she gave birth to an otter. Page 210/211
I love stories like this and am alway fascinated that this kind of shape-shifting story is told all over the planet. Robinson has written a marvelous novel that brings to life the place and the people of the northern Pacific coast.