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Literature / Monkey Beach

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Monkey Beach is 2000 novel by Eden Robinson. Growing up in a small, isolated Haisla village in northern British Columbia, Lisamarie Hill struggles to understand her supernatural gifts. While her Haisla community is alive and well, most of her family and neighbors have lost their connection to or forgotten about their spiritual traditions, and she has little guidance or help in dealing with her mysterious visions.

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Meanwhile, Lisa's younger brother Jimmy has disappeared at sea...


This book provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Trudy and Josh. Formerly Mick.
  • Ambiguous Ending: And how. After a very strange Dream Sequence during which Lisa visits the Land of the Dead, and probably finds that Jimmy is dead, she wakes up alone on Monkey Beach. Fade to Black.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Death isn't portrayed as that bad, and the dead are still around. You can talk to them if you know how.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: The B'gwus supposedly lives in the area, especially near Monkey Beach. Dad and Jimmy think he is a joke and good for childrens' stories, but Ma-ma-oo believes that he is real. Lisa sees or hears him a few times.
  • Broken Bird: Karaoke. She's beautiful, but extremely violent and has a Hair-Trigger Temper. This is mainly because of the incredibly rough life she has had.
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  • Clever Crows: They're oracles.
  • Closer to Earth: Ma-ma-oo is old-fashioned and knows more about old traditions and living off the land than anyone else.
  • Crapsaccharine World: While Lisamarie has a loving family and a fairly happy childhood, and the town of Kitamaat is a tight-knit and stable community, conditions are still hard. The work available is harsh, the community is plagued by alcoholism and other drug abuse, and the ever-present racism underlying Canadian society rears its head frequently.
  • Cool Old Lady: Ma-ma-oo.
  • Cool Uncle: Mick.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Mick. It isn't clear exactly what happened to him, but he was at a residential school where children were abused horribly. He was an alcoholic for years, but eventually got clean and became and activist, getting shot at one point for his pains. And his wife, Cookie, was murdered by being tied up and left in a burning car.
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  • Domestic Abuse: Ba-ba-oo beat Ma-ma-oo so badly that she thought Mick and Trudy would be safer in residential school. Trudy never forgave her. It is strongly hinted that Ma-ma-oo heard him drowning in the bathtub and refused to help him because of this. However, it seems that in the present day, Ma-ma-oo has forgiven him.
  • Downer Ending: Jimmy is probably dead.
  • Food Porn: Detailed descriptions of traditional Haisla foods such as oolichan grease and many different kinds of berry.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Zig-zagged with Lisa and Jimmy. Throughout most of the book, it seems that Jimmy is by far the more responsible of the two, working hard and excelling at everything. Lisa, on the other hand, struggles with school and has trouble socializing, eventually descending into a life of perpetual drunken partying. However, by the end of the book Lisa begins to put her life back together, while Jimmy throws away everything he spent his life working for the instant he experiences an actual setback, and throws his life away on an impulsive revenge quest.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Considering that the book opens with the crows telling Lisa to "Go down to the bottom of the ocean", it really shouldn't be at all surprising that Jimmy is dead, although the novel builds up suspense masterfully.
  • Happily Married: Gladys and Al, Lisa's parents. Although it is hinted that Gladys and Mick might have had an affair. This is never confirmed outright, and Gladys and Al are still Happily Married in the present day.
  • Magical Native American: Deconstructed. Lisa is a Magical Native American, but she is The Hero, and her gifts bring her a great deal of trouble.
  • Nightmare Fuel: The thing in the psychiatrist's office, and whatever it is that drinks Lisa's blood on Monkey Beach.
  • Parental Neglect: Trudy does almost nothing for Tab that would be considered "parenting". However, she does seem to actually love her.
  • Pedophile Priest: Ran the residential school. At least one character, Josh, was definitely molested by one. Although this is not treated as a Freudian Excuse for what he did to Karaoke at all.
  • The Reveal: The boat Jimmy was on sank because Jimmy sank it intentionally. He also murdered Josh, because Josh had raped Karaoke.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Ma-ma-oo, in the hospital after her heart attack.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Jimmy and Lisa. Jimmy is incredibly driven, hardworking, popular, and friendly, while Lisa struggles with school, has trouble finding direction in her life, and is antisocial.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Mick and Cookie. Much more darkly, Trudy and Josh. Things might have gone this way between Lisa and Frank, but it doesn't end up happening.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Lisa and Erica, when they're getting along.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The Haisla characters are quite blase about ghosts, since they traditionally believe that the spirits of dead friends and relatives are always around and aren't afraid of them.
    Ma-Ma-oo: "You don’t have to be scared of things you don’t understand. They’re just ghosts."
  • Wangst: Jimmy dislocates his shoulder a few months before the Olympics, preventing him from competing. He promptly gives up the dream that he's spent his whole life working to achieve. He's seventeen and would definitely have had a shot at the next Olympics if he had stuck with it. Even that doesn't compare to the Wangst when his relationship with Karaoke hits rough spots.
    • Completely averted with Lisa, who goes through a great many traumatic experiences but is very matter-of-fact about them.
  • Tsundere: Deconstructed with Karaoke. She is dangerously unstable and causes a lot of trouble for herself and others.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out if Tab is actually dead or no.
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