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Monkey Beach Hardcover – December 6, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (December 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618073272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618073276
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,661,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I saw this author give a talk at Powell's sometime in the fall, so I was very excited to see the book available. In person she was fabulous- very funny and interesting, talking about how she wrote the book. Then I read the book, and I was not disappointed! It is kind of dark and yet funny at the same time, set along the coast of, I think, BC. The main character looks back over her life and eccentric family (including crazy cousin Mick, an Elvis fanatic) as they search for her brother, missing off of a commercial fishing boat. There are visits from Big Foot and other "ghosts," and, all in all, I loved it. It was one of those reads where I hate the book to end, and I miss the characters! Really excellent.
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Format: Hardcover
Eden Robinson has written a quietly engrossing novel about life on the coast of British Columbia, in the small Haisla town of Kitamaat. Lisa Marie (named after Elvis Presley's daughter) has a gift: she can see spirits, even if she does not understand them. Most troubling, she is visited by a little man with red hair who seems to appear at night in her bedroom just before disaster strikes. But this novel is not about Lisa and her visions of Sasquatchs and talking crows; MONKEY BEACH is about the tender bonds forged in life. Her beloved brother Jimmy has disappeared at sea, and the family can only wait for news. Lisa finds herself looking backwards for answers - in the deaths of her favorite uncle Mick and her grandmother, and in her own and her brother's lives. Through these extensive flashbacks, we begin to understand not only the significance of Jimmy's disappearance but also those he has left behind.
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book was interesting but the book uses a mixture of present tense and flashbacks that is a bit confusing. There were several misspellings and other evidence that the book wasn't well edited. A better editor could have made a difference in this book. It's a story about Native Americans in modern times in the Pacific Northwest. The main character is searching for a brother who has disappeared from a fishing boat but all is not what it seems. The ending was what really made me disappointed. It was ambiguous to say the least. I don't like spoiling a story but at the end you won't really know what happened. Maybe that's the point, everyone will develop their own theory of what actually happens at the end but it wasn't done well. I hope the author works with a good editor in the future as she shows promise.
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Format: Hardcover
Robinson's book is a great "modern" fairy tale that deftly weaves the sad truth about Native Americans such as reserve life, alcohol, poverty and residential schools with an interesting twist of old mythology. There are liberal doses of hard reality such as broken lives due to substance abuse and hard living mixed in with flights of fancy about the "sasquatch" said to be living in the coastal area in the Queen Charlotte islands.
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"?
Buy a copy and support real talent!
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Format: Hardcover
I grew up 20 miles from where this story is set. It brought back many wonderful memories of youthful summers and listening to stories at my Mamaoo's knee. Robinson's description of Kitamaat and village life is dead on! Her vibrant, discriptive narrative allowed me to travel back in time, when my Grandparents would come to visit on their seiner and would tie up at Kitamaat. If you are interested in contemporary First Nations life, Robinson is the woman to write it. I look forward to her next novel.
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Format: Kindle Edition
MONKEY BEACH is one of those books were I am honestly unsure about how I feel about it. I suspect Robinson prefers it that way. MONKEY BEACH slips and slides between the past and the presents, tying the disparate parts of heroine Lisamarie's life together in unexpected ways. The nominal driving force of the novel is the disappearance of Lisamarie's older brother, Jimmy. He was on a fishing boat that disappeared; however, he is a great swimmer and there are tons of islands, so there's a small chance he died. At first it seems odd that Lisamarie would disgress so much, pondering her uncle Mick (for example) instead of focusing on Jimmy. But it all works together, in a rough sort of way.

This is a hard novel to describe, because nothing much happens in MONKEY BEACH, yet it is a very tumultuous novel. Life is enough to provide humor and tragedy without big events. MONKEY BEACH is also a very dark novel. Education in boarding schools looms over the heads of the previous generation. Other injustices against the Haisla and other First Nations people continue. The heroine is date raped, in a thankfully non-explicit scene. Secrets bubble out of every corner. Death, drugs, alcohol, sex - they're never far. At the same time, Lisamarie has an incredible, loving family, a real shot at the future, and a few good friends.

I really loved Lisamarie. She's angry, prickly, and too foolhardy for her own good. She also sees things - a little man who fortells deaths, for instance. Lisamarie never has much hope of Jimmy's survival. It's a power she seeks to learn more about, but she's still not the type to bear it with grace.

I may not entirely know how I feel about the novel, but MONKEY BEACH was an absorbing reading experience. I felt a little like I was in Kitamaat, especially when Lisamarie described fish grease in detail.
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