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Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

LisaMarie – often called Lisa – is a Haisla youth who lives in small village in Northern BC, in Kitamaat Village. The main storyline that carries us throughout the book is the search for her brother, Jimmy, and has been missing at sea. Her parents go down to Vancouver and Lisa stays behind to wait. After her parents have found a life jacket, Lisa decides to join them, taking her fathers boat and motor down the coast, as it would be the fastest way to reach them. She goes to Monkey Beach, as she had a vision of her brother at the beach earlier in the story, and the reader is left to decipher how the book ends – there are multiple readings. She could have almost drowned and been saved by her brother, who was an Olympic quality swimmer. She could have almost drowned at sea and received another vision of her dead brother to send to his girlfriend and family. She could have drowned.

In flashbacks and memories – replicating storytelling narrative with circular timelines and multiple stories resting within one main storyline – we see that Lisa has been raised in this small town, and has always has brushes with the Other World – an ability to see a man who perches on her dresser when people are going to die or be injured. Her parents are still together, her brother Jimmy is two years younger than her, she has complicated relationships with her many cousins and relatives, and she grows close to her Uncle Mick and her Ma-ma-oo, and after they pass away, she blames herself and leaves to Vancouver. In the midst of trying to balance her affinity for the Other as well as coping with the social systems in play at school, she is drugged and raped by a person she thought to be a friend, and she never tells, although one of her potential crushes figures it out. This is actually never mentioned much aside from the fact that the person who did it has been physically beaten up. In Vancouver, she is a trust fund baby thanks to the funds left behind by her Ma-ma-oo and she falls into the wrong crowd – partying and drugging – trying to block out her gift and her memories. After another black out night, she receives a vision from her cousin and friend Tab, whom she believes is dead, and heads back home after running into a friend, Frank and his cousin, Karaoke. Back home, she gets clean and becomes closer to her brother, Jimmy, who has quit swimming due to an injury in his shoulder and missing out on the chance to go the Olympics. Jimmy is struggling with his life, much the same way Lisa was/is, and she finds clarity in being able to help with him. He falls in love with Karaoke and is planning to ask her to marry him. He takes a job on her Uncle Josh’s boat for a season, and everyone is under the impression it’s to earn funds for the wedding. Through her vision, Lisa comes to understand that Josh had raped his niece Karaoke, and she had gone to Vancouver to have an abortion, and Jimmy had killed Josh and sunk the ship to avenge Karaoke.

Analysis and Breakdown

Part 1: Love Like the Ocean

In the first sentence we are placed in the novel. We are listening to crows in greengage tress and they are speaking Haisla. They are telling Lisa to “go down to the bottom of the ocean” (1), and we are informed that her brother is missing at sea. When she tries to tell her mother about the crows speaking – crows whom Jimmy fed and had trained to eat as a sign of good luck – her mother dismisses it with a joke about Prozac, indicating that Lisa is mentally unstable if she believes in these things.

Lisa does not tell her of the dream she had of Jimmy the night the Queen of the North went missing, of when he was standing at Monkey Beach and “he faded in and out of view as the fog rolled by” (7). She believes she was on the boat, as Jimmy was far away and small.

This is where we, the readers, are first introduced to the stories of the “B’gwus, the wild man of the woods” (7). Lisa remembers a story where her dad told her two trappers had went into the mountains and they had to separate due to a trail split and they had to check their traps. the first hunter heard something behind him, saw brown fur, and thought it was a grizzly. He moved quietly and backed away, hoping to stay downwind, and was surprised when he went into a clearing and found twenty more hairy men. They growled and started to chase him, and they were fast. The hunter climbed up a cliff and the hairy men stood at the bottom and roared. He had one shot and he took aim and shot the leader, and as the other howled in grief, he ran. He broke camp and anchored the boat in the water, wide awake all night. In the morning he headed back up the mountain to search for his partner. When he got back to the split part of the trail, his partner was there, dead – beaten and bloody. The howling started all around him again, and he ran back to the boat.

Lisa also remembers that Ma-ma-oo would disapprove of the way her son would tell it, as Ma-ma-oo’s version just told of a hunter seeing a B’gwus crossing a glacier, getting scared and running. Jimmy believed. He wanted to photograph the B’gwus and get $30,000 from a newspaper for a photograph. He made his parents take him to Monkey Beach.

Monkey Beach is a northern paradise to Lisa – “[t]he water was so pure that you could see straight down to the bottom. You could watch crabs skittering sideways over discarded clam and cockleshells, and shiners flicking back and forth. Kelp the colour of brown beer bottles rose from the bottom, tall and thin with bulbs on top, each bulb with long strands growing out of it, as flat as noodles, waving in the tide” (13).

Jimmy took off the next morning, and Lisa runs after a noise she believes to be him. He runs fast, his brown shirt peeking through foliage, when suddenly she stops and her skin starts to prickle. She “saw him. Just for a moment, just a glimpse of a tall man, covered n brown fur. He gave me a wide, friendly smile, but he had too many teeth and they were all pointed. He backed into the shadows, the stepped behind a cedar tree and vanished” (16). She didn’t tell anyone aside from Jimmy what she had seen, as she didn’t want to be talked about.

As she sits outside having a smoke, she remembers how her cousin Erica introduced her to smoking when she was younger. How Erica made it look elegant. And how her Uncle Mick used to smoke a brand called Sago, and he would roll them himself.

She mentions how she used to want to tell her dad about her dreams, but he dismissed them. How she would see a little man in her dreams before tragedies. The little man, he has a “crinkling face [that] arranged itself into a grin” and he was a “red-haired man sitting cross-legged on the top of [her] dresser.” He wore a “green plaid shirt with tiny bells as he bowed to [her], then he straightened until he was standing again and stepped back into the wall” (21). When she did speak of it to her mother, she said they were just dreams and dreams can’t hurt you.

It was later that day, her long lost Uncle Mick showed up. Everyone had assumed him dead or missing, as he was a member of AIM in the States, and last they heard, he was being taken away. Lisa attacks him for making her parents cry, and it is general chaos. It was then she ties the man’s appearance into the moments of change in her life. She remembers seeing the man again, as he “had a shock of bright red hair which stood up in messy, tangles puffs that he sometimes hid under a black top hat” (27) – this was before the crows came.

As her parents leave, Lisa is left at her house with her Aunt Edith. Her aunt is frying up food, and she remembers how Jimmy said he was going on the water “to make things right” and that Lisa should “take care of herself” (29). She wants this to be an accident, and it’s the first time we are given foreshadowing that it may not be. She hopes that he didn’t drown, as that would a terrible irony, as Jimmy was never afraid of water.

It was at the water that Jimmy first met Adelaide, a girl who “was not just pretty, she was actual model material” (45). Jimmy was in the water as he whispered her name. It was that summer that Jimmy found his calling, Lisa remembers. He was going to be an Olympic swimmer.

It’s at a family funeral that Josh is introduced again as Aunt Trudy’s (Tab’s mother) love interest. Ma-ma-oo tells Trudy, her daughter, to be careful as “Josh isn’t right” (58) and Trudy replies, “You think he’s not good enough for me? Or is it the other way around?” (58). It’s at this funeral that Tab, Lisa’s cousin, explains to Lisa why Trudy and Mick have a hard time around Ma-ma-boo, who sent them to residential school when Ba-ba-oo was around, as he was an abusive husband.

Frank was first introduced to us through a memory, where he tries to beat up Lisa. He and his friends were aggressive and mean, and Lisa fought back. She bit Frank’s ass, through cloth and into the meat, and wouldn’t let go no matter how much he hit her. It was Erica’s older brother who had to pull them apart. After she refuses to apologize to Frankie’s mom and Frankie himself at the hospital, she reflects that no one likes her and her Uncle Mick, the one who would babysit her all summer and treat her questions as something to be respected, tells her “you are my favorite monster in the whole wide world” (67). It was later that week that Josh, Frank’s Uncle, told Lisa that he had taken care of him for her, and when he went to hug her “I turned my face away and held my breath because it smelled like something had died in his mouth” (67).

Ma-ma-oo is shown as an independent woman who still lives in her old home, keeping it barren and clean, no knick-knacks and useless items decorating her wall. This comes off as cold to Jimmy, but acceptable to Lisa. She kept a clean home, ate a lot of traditional foods, and was born of the era where she saved everything and repurposed everything. Mick would bring her berries and fish and grease, and as Lisa spent a lot of time with him, this cultivated the relationship between Lisa and her Ma-ma-oo as well.

It was with Ma-ma-oo that Lisa went to Octopus Beds, to light a fire for her Ba-ba-oo. Ma-ma-oo gave him firewater and tobacco and Twinkies through the fire, feeding the dead. She told her granddaughter to say hi to her grandpa, and this was one of the first matter-of-fact teachings Lisa received about the dead and how to communicate with them: “No, I can’t see him. He’s dead. He can come to you only in dreams. Be polite and say hello when you give him food.” (79). She is also told that her Grandfather died as “he slipped getting into the bathtub, hit his head, was knocked out and drowned” (80).

Lisa hears from her parents that they’ve arrived safely, and are staying optimistic. She eats Oolichan grease on her canned half-smoked salmon as she reflects upon the process in which one makes Oolichan (85) and the many uses one has for it in their community. Later, she is in Jimmy’s room, reflecting on his framed picture of Karaoke (Adelaide). Everyone was surprised by his choice of Adelaide, who was aggressive and mean and would have been ironically called “a delicate Haisla flower” (88) by her Uncle Mick.

She remembers the camping trip they took to make grease, and how she and her Uncle went a day early. He took her to the hot springs and told her a story of when her parents were younger and in love, how her mom was drunk and made snow angels all over the front lawn one night. He wanted her to remember her mom as a fun, happy woman. It was during this trip that they camped near an old fishing village where everyone had died, and Lisa wanted to go see it. She heard laughter in the trees. When she mentions to her Uncle that she doesn’t want to go alone in the darkness because of the ghosts, he mentions that her Ba-ba-oo could see ghosts as well (107). It was also during this trip that Lisa sees her Uncle Mick come up behind her mom, and kiss her neck. Her mom slowly pushes him off, and acts like nothing happened. Lisa goes home the next day.

Lisa is in her room, searching for her cigarettes. As she tries to settle down, she reflects on the fact that “astronauts have flown 384,000 kilometres to walk on the moon, but no one has actually set foot on the deepest ocean floor” (125).

Jimmy first fed the crows before a swim meet because his mom, Gladys, told him it would bring him luck. Spotty was one of the smarter crows, and she was a favorite of Jimmy’s.

It was at Tab’s house that Aunt Trudy let it slip during a drunken spree with Josh and two other men that Mick had a sweet inkling for her mom back in the day, and when Lisa got mad and reacted, Tab looks at her and says “why do you listen to her?” (129), showing the weariness Tab must felt towards her own mother, and how she survives her mother. It was the next day that Lisa goes back to confirm it, and while Trudy doesn’t remember actually saying it, she gives a gentler account of Mick and Gladys went on a few dates but never slept together and he left. Her dad was there to comfort her and they were the ones who ended up together (130).

She dreams of the little man again, he wakes her near dawn with “eyes glittering and black” (131). Lisa convinces herself that he is a dream brought on by too much food, and she calls him a bastard. He reached out ah and to comfort her, and after he disappeared, she could still feel him.
Mick asks her to go check a net with him, and she declines, thinking of her headache and how the little man was supposed to be a dream. Afterward, they go looking for Mick as the nets are still in the water. She and her dad find the seals eating, and her dad fires round after round into the water, telling her not to look.

Lisa is awakened by Spotty, who is repeating La’sda – go into the water. She makes herself hot chocolate and answers the phone, it is very early and that means either good news or bad news. They have found a life raft, her father is crying. Lisa makes the decision to come down now. She goes by boat, as other options will take too long. “There is nothing like being on the ocean to clear the head,” she says (138).


Part 2: The Song of Your Breath
p. 139-295

In her small boat, Lisa is fighting the tide, and watching the land for markers. she is passing the old graveyard. She remembers Ma-ma-oo telling her that everything in the dead world is backwards – “when you are in the next world, our day is your night; our left is your right; what is burnt and decayed in our world is whole in yours” (141).

Mick’s funeral had his old A.I.M. members come to the funeral, and Josh gives Lisa an envelope with two pictures of Mick and $100 cash. Barry shows Lisa a picture of Mick and Cookie on their wedding day, traditional style. He tells her how the two of them met, and how Cookie died in a suspicious fire. It was a few days later that Mick’s trophies from his glory days were separated between his two sisters, Trudy and Edith. That night, Josh tried to steal some trophies and Trudy hit him over the head with a bottle and started a brawl and Josh got thrown out and broke his leg. That’s when Tab moved to Vancouver with her mother.

On Mick’s birthday, Lisa burns up some tobacco while listening to Elvis. She remembers that “Mick’s face, right arm and p[art of his left leg had been eaten off by seals and crabs” (148). She had been there when they pulled him out and wrapped him in a tarp.

She spent more time with Ma-ma-oo that year as well. Ma-ma-oo was the one who showed her Oxasul – “[p]owerful medicine. Very dangerous. It can kill you, do you understand? You have to respect it” (151). It, along with other plants they gathered, when smoked, helped keep the spirits and hosts away. It was during this gathering trip that Ma-ma-oo mentions, “[t]he chief trees – the biggest, strongest, oldest ones – had a spirit, a little man with red hair. Olden days, they’d lead medicine men to the best trees to make canoes with” (152). Ma-ma-oo understood that Lisa had the gift, just like her mother Gladys had, as Gladys’s family had it strong. Her mom used to know who was going to die next, and the gift made people nervous. And that her grandmother – Lisa’s great-grandma – was a real medicine woman, and she could talk to the dead. And since no one knew how to do medicine like that anymore, “best not to deal with it at all if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s like oxasuli. Tricky stuff” (154).

Lisa is cold and her hands are numb as she boats across the ocean. She tries to remember Ma-ma-oo’s stories about the shape shifting raven Weegit but she is too cold and the ocean spray keeps dousing her cigarette.

Lisa remembers the time Jimmy suggested stealing the vehicle, and she had spent the Fall being numb, and this was the only thing that peaked her interest. They were caught, but she never told on Jimmy.

Ma-ma-oo tells Lisa about her older sister, Eunice/Mimayus, and how she died in a boating accident on her way to see a sweetie up the coast. She says that a storm came and a funnel tore up the boat, and no one was ever found, aside from the engine a week later (162).

Lisa is still boating, craving cigarettes. She feels guilt; she should have been with them. The coffee is too sweet and leaves an acidly sweet taste at the back

Jimmy’s interest in Olympics swimming continues to grow as he gets better at it. Lisa’s life gets emotionally harder with the bullying from Frank and his crew. As Jimmy’s popularity grew, Lisa’s didn’t. She scares him with a monkey mask, and laughs and runs away as Jimmy yells after her, “You hear me, you freak? You’re gonna get it!” (168).

Lisa an Frank fight in class, and Erica and Lisa have a verbal/physical fight in the schoolyard, after Lisa reveals that Erica had peed her pants on a carnival ride. Lisa is slowly getting socially isolated. She visits her Ma-ma-oo in the graveyard, and is told not to be scared of the ghosts there as “only ghosts here are relations” (173). Lisa goes home and cuts her hair in tribute to her mourning for her Uncle Mick, which her mom opposes then tries to straighten out. That night, she whispers Mick’s name and “[f]or a moment, I felt light, free, as if a warm wind blew through me, making my skin tingle” (176).

Lisa continues to fight and earns entry into Frank’s club. She starts hanging out with the boys. Her status with the girls kept going down as “it was all right to want to date a boy, but not to go out and play with one, let alone join a guy gang” (179).

Names have power when contacting the dead (180).

Jimmy had called when he and Josh had reached Bella Bella. He talked about his aches and pains, and Lisa was relieved as she didn’t think he could be planning anything stupid.

On Lisa’s 12th birthday, she invited her boy gang as she didn’t have any girl friends. Frank gave her a slingshot. Her dad got her a kitten. Her mom transformed the downstairs into an at-home salon area to assist with costs, and the cat grows up to be an excellent hunter, often wanting to hunt the crows Jimmy would feed for luck.

Lisa speeds through a small squall, passing through Costi Island and Kildala arm. She notes that “the entire coast of British Columbia is made of drowned mountains” (193).

Ma-ma-oo tells her about her mom’s mother, who would not move to the villages and would stay in the winter and summer camps. Her mom tells her not to listen to the stories. Her mom’s nickname is Crash, and Mick’s was nicknamed Monster, and her dad had no nickname.

Lisa notices that Frank watches her sometimes, and it makes her nervous. Ina good way, the aware way. She runs into Tab again, who sows her the new tattoo the boyfriend bought her, as Tab is rocking a biker-chick look now. Tab has run away from home, and gets high with Lisa behind the rec centre. Lisa is not chill. Once they go home, Trudy calls looking for Tb, and Tab is sent back down to Vancouver. Josh drives her.

Ma-ma-oo continues to teach Lisa about the past stories, as well as a new Hailsa word a day (211).

Seeing the ghosts takes concentration. Meditate. “Any fear, doubt or disbelief will hinder your efforts” (212).

Lisa stops for a pee break at Blind Pass, as the boat is too small to lean over, and she didn’t want to pee in a pail. The toilet paper is mushy, but she grabs it anyways. She remembers that her Ma-ma-oo hated toilet paper on their walks, and how they would walk up the power lines and overlook the village. Lisa runs into a white guy after she pees in the bush, whose making small talk and really wants to go party with her, as he’s on a family trip.

Lisa remembers when she had a vision about Jimmy and the crows, and how she had her gang follow him around all day to make sure he wouldn’t die. She knew it was a real vision, but didn’t know how to proceed. She brought him with her after school to the pool hall, and Adelaide and her sidekick friend Ronny had come by. Jim and Adelaide get introduced to each other for the first time. Turns out that Jimmy’s swimmer friends got sick and they missed a meet, where Jimmy caught they of a trainer who wanted to help him train. (228)

She also remembers the time the Ouija board told her the missing cat was worm meal – dead and missing. “They have a fucked up sense of humour,” Pooch explains (232).

Around Valentine’s day, puberty started to hit. Lisa remembers the first time she had to shave her legs, and how Frank was developing a little ‘stache and she didn’t understand how or why people were trying to give each other hickies or spinning bottles.

The little man appeared again, woke lisa up. He “still wore his hair like a troll, sticking up in jagged red tufts” (234) and Lisa kicked him out, screaming at him to get out. She woke up her parents with her yelling and went downstairs. There, her dad told her Ma-ma-oo had just had a small heart attack. She went to Vancouver, came back, and went on with her life. She had to give up salt, but never really took to other spices. When she came back, Lisa grew more comfortable with her and their relationship again – “I realized she was just happy to have me there and I didn’t have to entertain her. The silence grew comfortable” (240).

Lisa graduated from Elementary, and was going to high school (grade 8?). Frank asked another girl to their grad, and got hickies. Started dating the annoying girl, and in the midst of all this, Lisa gets caught smoking by her Mom. Her dad smokes as well, and Lisa would have to give up smoking, her dad would have to give up smoking, and her mom would have to give up coffee. When Lisa announced she would stop smoking, after her Ma-ma-oo tells her that tobacco is sacred, her mom and dad took up their vices again (248).

Cheese asks Lisa out, and says that Frank likes her, and he had asked Frank for the ok. She gets mad and her dad takes her to the mall a few towns over while at a swim meet. There, she has a run in with Erica who is being followed by white guys in a car, hooting at her. She tells them to fuck off and faces them down, and they get out and threaten to grab her. She is saved by a burly white biker who tell her temper will get her killed, and Erica’s older brother comes running around the corner, with six other Haisla guys carrying bottles and crowbars (251).

Lisa sees the man again after her Aunt Trudy and Tab come to visit, and after she hears that Ma-ma-oo sent Mick and Trudy to residential school after she got beat up by Ba-ba-oo. Trudy tells her the next day that “you’re a mouthy Indian, and everyone thinks we’re born sluts. Those guys would have said you asking for it and got off scot-free. … you would have been hurt or dead, and no one would have given a flying fuck” (255).

Lisa goes to a house party. She sees Frank there with his girlfriend. Pooch is made to leave as his older brothers are there, but Lisa is allowed to stay. Cheese comes out of a room and offers Lisa a beer. Lisa leaves the party, is disoriented, and someone grabs her and “I’m lying on the ground and I can’t see the sky because of the tree branches. I’m cold and someone is breathing over me. The last piece is pain between my legs, and a body on top of me, panting. We’re moving together as if we were lovers, and the rocks and twigs are digging into my back” (258). She can’t see who it is and when she goes to scream, a hand covers her mouth. She passes out.

She makes it back home and Tab is there, covering for her. She sees the little man on the dresser once Tab leaves the room and she asks him “If you couldn’t stop it, … what good are you?,” (259) and she tells him not to bother coming again. She goes to burn her clothes the next day, and the trees and the whispers rise up to tell her, “we can hurt him for you” (261). They want meat and they will hurt him for her. She tells herself that it’s her imagination. She burns the clothes, and buries the dead animal that rolled out of the barrel as well. She wished him pain. She buried it.

Frank asks if she and Cheese are going out. She tells Frank that she will kill Cheese if he comes near her again.

Lisa began sleepwalking and having vivid dreams. She would wake up and still see ghosts, see them when no one else could. She was brought to get some tests done, for the sleepwalking. At the hospital, she finds out that Frank had beaten up Cheese pretty badly. She won’t talk about it. When she sees Frank again on the second day of high school, he ignores her and they stop talking. Erica is by her side again. She goes back to the hospital and sees something clinging to the side of her therapist and Lisa remembers saying all the stuff you are supposed to say, trying to ignore the little evil being that made her cheek numb when it touched it.

Lisa is almost at Monkey Beach when the tank rumbles dry. She fills up again, getting going. She is going to Monkey Beach to just check. She had that dream. As she drives in, she remembers the stories from the land – noting where the families used to play, where the legends are.

At the end of Grade 9, Lisa is put in the modified program for the High School. Her grades are bad. She decides that she will work for the Cannery instead, not going to go to University. She celebrates Erica’s birthday, and sees Adelaide, now Karaoke, who is still gorgeous and now mean. A girl at the party tries to fight her and Karaoke pokes her eyes and downs the boyfriend for defending her too. She’s a mean one, but capable (281).

Ma-ma-oo has a stroke, and Lisa has no warning, and she says, “this is… what it’s like for everyone else. Hello, it’s bad news. Bam. I couldn’t grasp it; my head wouldn’t wrap around it” (283). Ma-ma-oo recovered and went back home eight days before Christmas. Lisa tells her that she doesn’t want her to go, and Ma-ma-oo, tells her, “[t]he place I’m going … nobody’s hungry and nobody’s in pain. Sunny all day. People I love everywhere, waiting for me” (285).

That February, she goes to an All-Native tournament and has sex with Pooch – “we went up to a room, took off our clothes, kissed, got on with business, and that was it. He was sort of drunk, I was sort of drunk, but by the end of it we were both sober” (287).

When Lisa gets back to the Village, her Grandma is seeing the deceased people in the room. Lisa can smell something, but can’t see them clearly. Ma-ma-oo then gifts Lisa a locket of Mick. A few days later, a fire breaks out in town. It was ma-ma-oo’s place. She sees her Ma-ma-oo’s body being carried out, and it is horrible, mutilated like Uncle Mick’s was, deformed. Ma-ma-oo leaves everything to Lisa, a fund amount of $219,800. Lisa though, she doesn’t care – “I remembered that I could have saved her. If I had listened to my gift instead of ignoring it, I could have saved her” (294).

Part 3: In Search of the Elusive Sasquatch
p. 295-365

Lisa arrives at Monkey Beach. She remembers the last time she was here, with Jimmy in 1988. The previous two years were wipeouts – too much parties, to much drugs. She moves to Vancouver after dropping out of school.

She remembers partying too much, and her trust funds for the month running out. Waking up on the floor, and her cousin Tab sitting there. Tab starts giving her shit, as Lisa sits up and has a smoke. They go for coffee after making their way through a plethora of passed out people in east Van somewhere. When they leave the coffee shop, Lisa tries to give Tab a pack of smokes and they go right through Tab. She believes Tab is dead. Tab tells her to “get your act together and go home” (301) and then she disappears.

Lisa gets a haircut. A manicure. Gets some makeup. Gets a new room down the hall from her previous one so her party buddies don’t know where she is. She finally decides to go see her Aunt Trudy, to see if Tab is really dead. Turns out, Tab is good. Aunt Trudy is having one big party before she heads to rehab. She invites Lisa, and Lisa runs into Frank at the party. Turns out he is heading back to the Village as Pooch killed himself. Lisa decides to head back with Frank and Karaoke. Frank tells lisa that he saw Pooch the day he died, and Lisa explains that it’s a “death sending… [i]t’s nothing to worry about. He probably just wanted to say goodbye” (313).

It was on the way home that Lisa sees another B’gwus sighting on the road. When she gets out of the car, she doesn’t tell Frank anything. But she was “comforted knowing that magical things were still living in the world” (316).

The trees continue to call Lisa’s name. She “wants to stay here on Monkey Beach. Some places are full of power, you can feel it, like a warmth, a tingle” (316).

She goes to a party with Frank and Karaoke after Pooch’s funeral. Sees Cheese who is drunk and accuses her of seeing ghosts. Jimmy sees her, sees Kareoke, and tells her that he had quit swimming. Lisa can’t imagine it. Jimmy walks her to the hotel room, and has a smoke with her. Lisa is teasing him about it, as his fall from grace is unknown to her. Jimmy brings her home, and her mom tells her to stay the night. Her dad tells her to stay as long as she need.
Lisa decides to stay. She wants to finish her high school. Erica has a baby, may move out of town. She graduated though. Lisa just wants to graduate before or with Jimmy, not have him pass her. She would see Frank for supper on weekends. School was easy once she started studying, and Jimmy would help her with math and algebra. Jimmy was partying more, a date a week.

Lisa remembers that she invited Jimmy to Karaoke’s birthday party, and how Jimmy arrived late and started parting with Karaoke right away. That night, she dreamed of the place where Ma-ma-oo had taken her blueberry picking. When Jimmy didn’t come home the next day, that evening Lisa borrowed the car and drove up to the blueberry patch and found Jimmy and Karaoke. They had gotten stuck. They started dating after that. Gladys wasn’t too impressed but kept her peace.

Lisa stands at Monkey Beach, listening to the crows and the trees. They want meat to help her.

She remembers when Karaoke left town. Jimmy started breaking things in his room, and she kidnapped him one night after he partied too much to go to Monkey Beach. He woke up and broke the motor trying to start it. They had to stay there a few extra days until it was fixed. He kept trying stupid things to leave, and she just wanted some fish. They talked. Jimmy didn’t understand why she was so sad as “Mick was a nut and Ma-ma-oo was a cold fish” (348). Lisa tells him he didn’t know them, he was too young. It turns out Jimmy felt some relief when his shoulder rolled – he didn’t have to live up to the expectations anymore. They stayed there for two more nights, turns out Lisa was pretty great at roughing it.

On the boat ride home, after Lisa had fixed the cord, Jimmy jumps in with the Orcas to swim after they surround their boat. He was so happy. Lisa “holds him there in my memory, smiling excited, telling me how they moved like submarines, and how the water looked so much more magical when they were swimming in it” (354).

She remembers Jimmy trying to throw away his trophies. She saves them, reminding him he may want to show his children one day. He won’t stop feeding the crows though, and he brags about how smart they are.

She dreams about Ma-ma-oo, about how she heard Ba-ba-oo fall but doesn’t go check on him. Ma-ma-oo is covered with bruises. When she wakes, she goes to the ocean. Something is in the water. She moves in, and Jimmy comes to get her when she is waist deep. She tries to grab the item, but it drags her under, and for a moment it looks like a baby in a christening gown. Jimmy grabs her and takes her home. Jimmy tells her that it was Spotty who woke him up and led him to the beach.

Karaoke comes back and she and Jimmy pick up again. Erica mentions that Karaoka had been in Vancouver for unknown reasons, but gossip abound. Jimmy wakes her up one morning to show her a tiny, tiny promise ring. He asks his Mom about wedding costs. Him and his dad star looking at how to afford it. The crows sit on the roof of the house.

The trees keep calling Lisa’s name. She figures once wouldn’t be so bad, especially if they help her find Jimmy. She tells the trees, “I don’t have any meat. But I have blood” (361).

Jimmy announced he was going fishing for the season one morning. He was depressed, still wearing the same clothes from the day before. He was leaving the next day. Lisa asks him if he knows what he’s getting into, and Jimmy is fierce when he says yes. Karaoke comes to talk to Josh but when Lisa tells her he got the job on the fishing boat, she leaves after confirming the boat is Queen of the North, the boat her Uncle Josh runs.

The day Jimmy leaves, he tells Lisa to tell Karaoke that he loves her. And he tells her parents that he’ll be back soon. When Lisa tells Karaoke that Jimmy has left, Karaoke starts a fight. She smiles while getting beaten up, and when Lisa tries to go visit her at the hospital, she’s already been released.

Lisa finds a picture of a priest and a young boy, with Josh’s head and Karaoke’s head pasted over the images. She finds it in Jimmy’s jacket. She asks Karaoke about it, and she mentions that it was a joke and Jimmy saw it. It was a birth announcement, stating “Dear, dear Joshua. It was yours so I killed it” (365).

Lisa cuts her hand. The cut begins to burn. She holds her hand up, letting the blood run. She hears the slither of something coming closer. – the reader is then transported with Lisa down into the Land of the Dead.


Part 4: The Land of the Dead
p. 367-374

She is on the trap line with Mick and Ba-ba-oo. They are looking for a pine tree. Lisa asks why Mick stayed away and didn’t visit. He shrugs it off, and they bring the tree back.

She wakes up. Her hand hurts. She yells at the trees who want more. She wants to see Jimmy first.

Jimmy has hit Josh with the oar. It hit Josh’s temple and he hoped he killed him as he was left to sea. The seiner sinks quickly as Jimmy slips off it. Jimmy had run it straight into a log, and while Josh was distracted, Jimmy hit him. Jimmy can’t see the life raft so he heads towards shore.

Lisa wakes again. She wants to see what happened to Jimmy, not what he did. The trees want more. She refuses. She tries to pull the boat closer to the shore, dizzy from blood loss. She slips, the boat hits her head, she slips underwater.

Ma-ma-oo sees her. Pulls her up out of the water, tells her to listen. “You have a dangerous gift… [i]t’s like oxasuli. Unless you know how to use it, it will kill you” (371). Her Ma-ma-oo tells her that when it’s time for a person to go, they go. When Lisa asks about Jimmy, Ma-ma-oo tells her to go back, “[y]ou’ve come too far into this world. Go back” (372).

Lisa is underwater, watching the boat sink. The kelp is brushing against her. She inhales, salty taste strong, and water drags her back down again. The crows are dancing above her.

Jimmy stands beside her, and when she touches him, he shoves her out of the water. Pushes her away. She watches his face get smaller in the water as she rises to the surface.

She is so tired. She can’t see where to go, but she sees a bonfire and hears singing. She goes toward it. She struggles to make her way out of the surf, while people stand and watch her. Her relations are encouraging her to keep moving. Ma-ma-oo. Mick.

She can close her eyes and see Jimmy shake his head, telling Lisa to “tell her” (374). They are singing that she take care of herself, that she take care.

She is on the beach. The clamshells hurt. She feels light, so is no longer cold. She hears a b’gwus very close by. She hears a speedboat.


Main Themes:


This book is a great example of how belief in a spiritual world is combined and contrasted against a modern lifestyle. Lisa is a character who has a gift that has been in her family for generations but her mother refuses to acknowledge it and teach her. Lisa often talks about how she sees both the magical and the dead, but there is no one to listen to her, aside form her Ma-ma-oo, and she struggles o understand on her own. She is sent to the hospital for talking about her gift, a swift reminder that she is not “normal,” so she is taught to say the right things to please the adults. That being said, she is still immersed in a culture where they feed the dead on their birthdays by burning items for them in the afterworld. They cut their hair to mourn. When she is in a new territory for the first time, she is told by her Ma-ma-oo “[w]hen you go up to the Kitlope, … you be polite and introduce yourself to the water. … It’s so it can see you with fresh eyes” (112). The water is a living being, the trees whisper to her, she listens to the crows and the seals, they believe in omens. They is no separation between the spiritual and human reality, yet she is constantly being told there is.


There are many jarring scenes where sexuality is used as weapon against the women in the story – from Erica and Lisa getting harassed by the white men in town, from Lisa getting raped by a person she thought was her friend, from Karaoke getting raped by her Uncle Josh. Sexuality is used to diminish a woman, but the truly chilling way this is treated by the main character Lisa is both incredibly depressing and realistic. She is not surprised when the rape happens to her. She is not surprised that the rape happened to Karaoke. She keeps it secret, keeps it within, and holds onto to it. She buries it.

The initial innocence of the girls discovering what it all meant initially meant nothing to Lisa even though she noticed when other girls were exploring – like Erica who “was the first girl in our age group to smoke and the first to get a hickey” (57), and it still didn’t when she was raped. The fact that she doesn’t explore her own sexuality any further – aside from casually having sex with Pooch for a while – she is still emotionally distant from it. In it’s own way, seeing the rage and discovering the rage Jimmy had when Karaoke tells him she was raped and had an abortion, it is an opportunity for Lisa to see that her own violation was just that – something that the people around her would rage over, want revenge for.

Even the ‘positive’ sexuality – where Mick holds Gladys with softness and affection – is bad, as they are related through marriage. They aren’t supposed to touch like that.


The accurate and lyrical descriptions of food are beautiful. This novel is immersed in food, in preparations, in stories of food, in the stories carried from old food preparation days, in relationships formed through food, and survival with knowledge of food. Salmon berry stew, blueberries with mold, ripe blueberries, the pain in the ass blueberries. The different types of fish and how to create grease from the Ooli’s, Food is used as a tool to connect the past with the present – teaching Lisa how to pick the best berries and the traditional names for them – and then telling her stories about her Aunt Miya, who passed away before she was born. The telling of how to prepare food is also a participation in drawing the reader into the novel in a very practical way – imparting and sharing knowledge, much as the way Ma-ma-oo does to Lisa, instead we are Lisa’s audience and she is our teacher.


This novel is packed with storytelling by the characters, sharing a rich oral history through print. The land is often an anchor for these stories – Lisa is reminded of the stories as she boats through territory where she and her family had come for ages. There is “[a] large, black hunched-over figure sat on the side of the mountain staring down at the lake.” (120) as she is looking for the Stone Man on a camping trip. She is told of the way we used to be, shape shifters who could change skins, and how the woman gave birth to an otter (210). She is told how to pick plants for blessing as they forage through the forest. She is told how tobacco is sacred when she starts to abuse it.

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mood always

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