Throughout Monkey Beach, author Eden Robinson effectively alternates passages transitioning between the present and flashbacks of Lisamarie’s life. It is through these flashbacks that Robinson is able to offer the reader a deep insight into Lisamarie’s childhood and upbringing. By placing these flashbacks in between passages of the present time, the reader is able to connect the past with present and understand how Lisamarie’s past relationships and her experiences in life shaped her thinking, personality and mindset in the present tense time frame. Through these techniques of flashback used by Robinson, it is also very apparent how large of a role time plays in moulding characters, especially that of Lisa.
By employing flashbacks, Robinson foreshadows significant portions of what happens to Lisamarie in the present tense time frame. In part two of the book, one of the flashbacks sees Lisa and Ma-ma-oo talking intensely about the little man that Lisa sees in her dreams. This is very significant because in this moment Ma-ma-oo acknowledges that Lisa has the ‘gift’. “Ah, you have the gift then. Just like your mother” (153) she says to Lisa quietly when asked about the Little Man she sees in her dreams. Discussing the topic more, Ma-ma-oo assures Lisa that those visions are real. The usage of flashbacks like these help the reader understand a lot more about Lisamarie and her mind. Early in the novel in the present tense time frame, we see Lisa dream about seeing Jimmy at Monkey beach. She thinks to herself, “I wish the dead would just come out and say what they mean instead if being so passive aggressive about the whole thing” (17). At this point in the novel we are not certain about what is it that she is talking about. Through the usage of the flashback of the conversation Lisa has with Ma-ma-oo, the reader gets a confirmation of their suspicions of Lisa’s gift and powers. It is also through this difference in the time gap between the flashback and the present time that the reader understands a depth of the character building and shaping up that has taken place.
It is now clear that Lisamarie, fully aware of the powers that she posses, uses them to talk to spirits and to take her closer to Jimmy. Another instance in when Robinson explores a flashback in Lisamarie’s life well into her teenage years that gives us more insight into her troubling state of mind. After a drugged-out night in East Vancouver, Lisamarie woke up to encounter an angry and disappointed looking Tab who goes on to try and feed some sense into Lisa’s head and to urge her to get her life together. Some point during this exchange, Lisa questions if the whole thing is just a hallucination. “…tossing the pack to her. It went right through her body. Startled, I watched as it hit the ground and bounced” (301). It is a mystery to the reader if this exchange is real or just another dream.
Such an episode is also very similar to the time when Lisamarie saw Jimmy standing on Monkey Beach and she questions its meaning. She thinks to herself, “I used to think that if I could talk to the spirit world I’d get some answers” (17). These flashbacks play the role of foreshadowing as they almost declare what is to happen ahead in Lisa’s life. Switching to the present tense time frame, towards the end of the novel, Lisa has another encounter with Ma-ma-oo where she warns Lisa that “[she] [has] come too far into this world. Go back” (372). This is a very ambiguous moment as it flirts in between reality and visions. The present-tense time frame here helps us understand better that the encounter with Tab in the flashback could have been of a similar kind.
Throughout the novel, Robinson switches from flashbacks to present times, not only to give the reader a deep look into Lisamarie’s upbringing and childhood, but to take the reader to a higher understanding of how the conversations, interactions and memories that Lisamarie had encountered over the years, have a deeper meaning and are closely related to her current state of mind in the present tense as she goes out in pursuit of Jimmy. This gives the reader a sense of how time has played a role in shaping up Lisamarie’s mindset and her thought processing as she encounters and interacts with the spirits.