27. Binary Star, by Sarah Gerard

22 Jul

Binary Star by Sarah Gerard

Unexpectedly, I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.

Binary Star, newish from Two Dollar Radio, is about a young, pill-popping anorexic and bulimic girl going on a road-trip with her deadbeat, rich-kid alcoholic boyfriend, starving, taking drugs, having ineffectual S/M sex, and eventually pseudo-embracing the cause of radical veganism, while actually doing nothing but flunking out of a grad program and getting fired from Starbucks.

I found it harrowing, funny, and very smart. A binary star is a two-star system, and the relationship with the boyfriend makes a good organizing principal for the loosely chronological story (subdivided into three “dredge ups”) about modern social isolation. Gerard’s evocation of the emptiness and loneliness of social-media-era, consumer-society American privilege is bleak. Her anorexic character is weightless in every way, without affect but also without illusions.

John bought me this mirror for my birthday. Or John used his parents’ money to buy me this mirror for my birthday. John used his parents’ money to buy me a gift card. I used the gift card to buy this mirror for my birthday.
I look at myself for hours each day.
I see myself and in that sense I’m real.
I practice saying no to various kinds of food.

I love the frictionless-ness of this passage, the slide from the gift purchased with someone else’s money to the gift card, to the mirror–an item that reflects not the giver but the lonely recipient herself, a self who feels unreal and is sliding, sliding, winnowing herself away. There is nothing to hold onto anywhere here, which is a quality of modern life, and Gerard makes the reader feel it.

The couple’s eventual embrace of radical veganism is equally without authorial illusion. John plans violent actions while being too drugged out to care properly for his dog. The protagonist sometimes admits that her veganism is just another pretext for saying no to food. The strength of the couple’s beliefs, far from saving them, feels as desperate, unhappily obsessed with consumption, and grasping-at-air as the rest of the book.

Maybe they’re not able to get jobs, says John.
Yeah, that’s it.
I don’t want a fucking job. You know what? I dropped out of business school.
That was dumb.
No, I had to. It was the only way I could live with myself.
Our friend snickers. Hope you enjoy welfare.
Fuck You.
Or maybe you have a trust fund? You and I aren’t so different.

The point is, he does have a trust fund.

In the end it’s a little vague but it seems like the girl actually carries out an attack, possibly on someone from her university, which I found less believable, or at least unnecessary given the context. The star system is functioning just fine when the two parties have only each other to hurt.



4 Responses to “27. Binary Star, by Sarah Gerard”

  1. shadowoperator July 22, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    Sounds like the “perfect” co-dependent relationship, with a few additional odd quirks thrown in! Good review, thanks.

  2. Grab the Lapels July 22, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    So nice to have you back! I love your reviews. The description of this book made me think, “Ew, not another book with those topics,” but the quote about the gift card and mirror seems to show a character who cares about truth while still deceiving her own body.

    • Ivalleria July 23, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

      Thank you! I wondered how much review space I should spend saying how annoying I find hipster literature in general and how disaffected party kids are the most boring people on earth to me…. usually. But I did like this very much. She does care about the truth, I think, is the difference between this and many book in this genre, and is able to recognize it, which makes for a very good, although disturbing book. I’m always so interested about what these young authors will do when they grow up.

      • Grab the Lapels July 28, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

        I think the reason hipster lit is so terribly boring is because a lot of it follows the lives of the authors so closely. Some imagination or deep look into the psyche might help with those kinds of stories so that they aren’t ALWAYS a drag to read.

        I just got an email from Word Riot saying that Sarah Gerad won their travel grant prize, so it sounds like she’s on the up and up!

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