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Monkey Beach

by Eden Robinson

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list price: $21.00
edition:Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 2001
ISBN:9780676973228
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada
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Awards
  • Winner, BC Book Prize's Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
  • Short-listed, Sunburst Award
  • Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
  • Short-listed, Governor General's Literary Awards - Fiction
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Description

Monkey Beach creates a vivid contemporary landscape that draws the reader deep into a traditional world, a hidden universe of premonition, pain and power.” --Thomas King

Tragedy strikes a Native community when the Hill family’s handsome seventeen-year-old son, Jimmy, mysteriously vanishes at sea. Left behind to cope during the search-and-rescue effort is his sister, Lisamarie, a wayward teenager with a dark secret. She sets off alone in search of Jimmy through the Douglas Channel and heads for Monkey Beach—a shore famed for its sasquatch sightings.Infused by turns with darkness and humour, Monkey Beach is a spellbinding voyage into the long, cool shadows of B.C.’s Coast Mountains, blending teen culture, Haisla lore, nature spirits and human tenderness into a multi-layered story of loss and redemption.

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Excerpt

Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla.
La'es, they say, La'es, la'es.
I push myself out of bed and go to the open window, but they launch themselves upward, cawing. Morning light slants over the mountains behind the reserve. A breeze coming down the channel makes my curtains flap limply. Ripples sparkle in the shallows as a seal bobs its dark head.
La'es — Go down to the bottom of the ocean. The word means something else, but I can't remember what. I had too much coffee last night after the Coast Guard called with the news about Jimmy. People pressed cups and cups of it into my hands. Must have fallen asleep fourish. On the nightstand, the clock-face has a badly painted Elvis caught in mid-gyrate. Jimmy found it at a garage sale and gave it to me last year for my birthday — that and a card that said, "Hap B-day, sis! How does it feel to be almost two decades old? Rock on, Grandma!" The Elvis clock says the time is seven-thirty, but it's always either an hour ahead or an hour behind. We always joke that it's on Indian time. I go to my dresser and pull out my first cigarette of the day, then return to the window and smoke. An orange cat pauses at the grassy shoreline, alert. It flicks its tail back and forth, then bounds up the beach and into a tangle of bushes near our neighbour's house. The crows are tiny black dots against a faded denim sky. In the distance, I hear a speedboat. For the last week, I have been dreaming about the ocean-lapping softly against the hull of a boat, hissing as it rolls gravel up a beach, ocean swells hammering the shore, lifting off the rocks in an ethereal spray before the waves make a grumbling retreat. Such a lovely day. Late summer. Warm. Look at the pretty, fluffy clouds. Weather reports are all favourable for the area where his seiner went missing. Jimmy's a good swimmer. Everyone says this like a mantra that will keep him safe. No one's as optimistic about his skipper, Josh, a hefty good-time guy who is very popular for his generosity at bars and parties. He is also heavily in debt and has had a bad fishing season. Earlier this summer two of his crew quit, bitterly complaining to their relatives that he didn't pay them all they were due. They came by last night to show their support. One of my cousins said they've been spreading rumours that Josh might have sunk his Queen of the North for the insurance and that Jimmy's inexperience on the water would make him a perfect scapegoat. They were whispering to other visitors last night, but Aunt Edith glared at them until they took the hint and left.

I stub out the cigarette and take the steps two at a time down to the kitchen. My father's at the table, smoking. His ashtray is overflowing. He glances at me, eyes bloodshot and red-rimmed.

Did you hear the crows earlier?" I say. When he doesn't answer, I find myself babbling. "They were talking to me. They said la'es. It's probably — "

"Clearly a sign, Lisa," my mother has come up behind me and grips my shoulders, "that you need Prozac." She steers me to a chair and pushes me down. Dad's old VHF is tuned to the emergency channel. Normally, we have the radio tuned to CFTK. He likes it loud, and the morning soft rock usually rackets through the house. As we sit in silence, I watch his cigarette burn down in the ashtray. Mom smoothes her hair. She keeps touching it. They both have that glazed, drawn look of people who haven't slept. I have this urge to turn on some music. If they had found the seiner, someone would phone us. "Pan, pan, pan," a woman's voice crackles over the VHF. "All stations, this is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard." She repeats everything three times, I don't know why. "We have an overdue vessel." She goes on to describe a gillnetter that should have been in Rupert four days ago. Mom and Dad tense expectantly even though this has nothing to do with Jimmy.

At any given moment, there are two thousand storms at sea.

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Contributor notes

EDEN ROBINSON is the author of a collection of novellas called Traplines, which won the Winifred Holtby Prize in the UK. Her first novel, Monkey Beach, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award for Fiction. It was followed by Blood Sports, and then Son of a Trickster, the first instalment of her trilogy, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads. Trickster Drift, the second book in the trilogy, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. In 2017, Eden was awarded the Writers' Trust Fellowship. She lives in Kitimat, BC.

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Editorial Review

“Robinson’s tribute to the Pacific Northwest and Haisla culture, embodied in her stout-hearted heroine and all her other vital and complex characters, does what good literature does best: it moves meaningfully from the particular to the universal and back again. And Robinson performs this feat with genuine insight, wry humor and transcendent lyricism.”
Chicago Tribune

“It is, in the best sense, a thriller, a spiritual mystery. The underlying plot centers on what exactly has happened to Jimmy (and why), a question that is only answered in the book's breathtaking final pages.”
The Washington Post
“Tough, tender and fierce.”
—Sherman Alexie

“Eden Robinson is one of those rare artists who comes to writing with a skill and maturity that has taken the rest of us decades to achieve.”
—Thomas King

"A graceful and impressive book."
Times Literary Supplement
"Far more than a novel of psychological transformation... It is, in the best sense, a thriller, a spiritual mystery... breathtaking... Robinson rewards our faith that after all these years writers can still, as Pound said, 'make it new.' In this year's lineup of lookalike literary prospects she could be the Willie Mays we've been hoping for."
The Washington Post
"Glorious Northern Gothic... . A compelling story...Robinson has an artist's eye, and delicately evokes the astonishing natural beauty of the Kitamaat region...behind Lisa's neutral voice is an authorial presence, weaving Haisla and Heiltsuk lore into the fabric of the novel gracefully, but with the quiet determination of an archivist cataloguing a disappearing way of life... a deeply satisfying conclusion."
The Globe and Mail, January 22, 2000

"Monkey Beach is a moody, powerful novel full of memorable characters. Reading it was like entering a pool of emerald water to discover a haunted world shivering with loss and love, regret and sorrow, where the spirit world is as real as the human. I was sucked into it with the very first sentence and when I left, it was with a feeling of immense reluctance."
—Anita Rau Badami

"Remarkable...Reads like a friend's conversation over coffee — warm, genuine...The simple, straight-to-the-heart prose gives each element, each event in the story, the same weight and perception of reality...Monkey Beach is both unusual and memorable...The book is a work of a deft talent, all the more remarkable that it is a first work."
Denver Post
"Although death hangs like a Pacific mist over these pages, Robinson, herself a Haisla, fills this edifying book with the stuff of the living, from the tiniest details of Haisla life to the mightiest universals of tradition, desire and family love."
LA Times Book Review
"Monkey Beach...is written with poise, intelligence and playfulness... Intricately patterned... there is much to admire in this tale of grief and survival...In Lisamarie Hill, Robinson has created a memorable character, a young woman who finds a way to survive even as everything around her decays."
National Post, January 22, 2000

"...we bear witness as she spreads her wings — not one note rings false. All the characters...are stubbornly real, mixtures of good and evil. This is Robinson at her best...this is a world worth every ounce of remembrance."
Toronto Star, Jan. 23, 2000

"A whirling magical style." "Native writer's debut novel catalogues the touch, sound and taste of Haisla life."
The Hamilton Spectator, January 29, 2000

"A first novel that bristles with energy — and a spunky heroine.... A haunting coming-of-age story [whose] the tragic elements are leavened with wonderful moments of humour...The characters in the book emerge brilliantly."
Maclean's
"[Robinson's] command of language and ability to create three-dimensional, believable characters result in a hypnotic, heady sensory experience —. The beauty of the book is in the details —Robinson combines mortal and spiritual worlds, the past and the present, seamlessly fusing them into a cogent, non-linear narrative —. Riveting."
—NOW (four-star review)

"Robinson...cuts through the superficial and goes straight to the heart."
eye Weekly
"Robinson's specialty is presenting the day-to-day: no bells, no whistles, no filtered lenses...but a lot of close-ups... The humour is pure, but the grit and blood is mixed with meditations on still waters, ancestral voices, ghostly footsteps and beating hearts...[Monkey Beach is] an important work of understanding."
Edmonton Journal
"Traplines was acclaimed for its startling blend of reality, brutality and humour — Monkey Beach carries [Robinson's] signature. But it does more. The dark humour is still pure, but the grit and blood is now mixed with meditations on still waters, ancestral voices, ghostly footsteps and beating hearts."
The Vancouver Sun
"Eden Robinson taps her own Haisla-Heiltsuk heritage to hurl [our Native] stereotypes into the West Coast mist and cigarette fumes that drift through her story. Her heroine, Lisamarie, is fierce and funny and screwed up, [and] her story, told through her memories of a past both rich and troubled, reveals a woman as strong and intricate as a carved mask."
Chatelaine
"Monkey Beach is an important novel. It exposes the redemptive, vital lives of a once dying culture with Robinson's insider compassion and trickster wit—. Robinson has energy; she resists the slickster sophistication that dries out so much of today's fiction; her humour is not urbane and nasty but shifty and wise."
Quill & Quire
"Robinson's characters are refreshingly real, simply yet elegantly wrought"
Elm Street
"Monkey Beach is a gift."
Homemaker's
"Monkey Beach...is pervaded by a powerful sense of menace, and the haunting spirituality that lurks in the beautiful landscape of Canada's Pacific coast."
Independent
"Fans of Robinson's bleak, compelling shorts won't be disappointed."
Esquire
"Beautifully written and haunting, this is an impressive debut."
Times
"Her debut novel is an absorbing, if at times, disturbing, imaginative work."
Daily Telegraph
"In her debut novel, Monkey Beach, Eden Robinson, a young First Nations woman who grew up in Haisla territory near Kitimat BC, does not wring her hands or cast blame. This is a candid and contemporary tale of family love and societal screw-ups and she simply acknowledges the reality of an unfolding universe."
Kitchener-Waterloo Record
"Well worth reading...a complicated fabric of disaster and redemption."
Newsday
"A gripping read... Smart, lyrical, simple prose, dramatic and affecting... Her truths, like her heroine, are young, raw, stark...Nature is evoked so vividly that chronology seems almost artifice. You see the seasons through Lisa's eyes, as if they are calendars and clocks, until place becomes time, and you understand the world that was lost."
San Diego Union Tribune
"A wonderful read...Lyrical but straightforward, enchanting... ultimately, redemptive."
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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About the Author

Eden Robinson

Eden Robinson is the internationally acclaimed author of Traplines, Monkey Beach, and Blood Sports. Traplines was the winner of the New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Britain's Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Monkey Beach was nominated for the Giller Prize, the 2000 Governor General's Award for Fiction, and was selected as the Globe and Mail's Editor's Choice. Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations.
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