Review: Binary Star by Sarah Gerard

binary-star-cover

3-star-rating

RATING: 3 STARS

“I read about stars. Miley Cyrus, Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga, Princess Kate. / I buy magazines at Walgreens. Read the stories, read for class. / If I have Adderall, I read all night, filling myself. / I empty myself. / I fill myself. / I empty myself. / I fill myself. / Again, I’m still empty. / My goal for the night: 85. Amazing! / I don’t need to be full to purge. I’m never full. / I’m able to purge without feeling. / I’m sick.”

[THIS BOOK IN ONE SENTENCE: An anorexic young woman falls deeper into her disease and veganarchism while engaging in a toxic relationship with an unemployed alcoholic.]

As one can see from the quote above, the format of Binary Star is not typical of most novels (excepting Ellen Hopkins of Crank fame and other dare-to-be-different young adult authors). This novel is written in poetic form, but more than that, it’s written as if you’re simply following the narrator’s train of thought. There are no quotations around the dialogue, so I had to figure out for myself if the unnamed young woman was just thinking, talking to someone, or being spoken to throughout the entire book.

* * * Skip down to the MY THOUGHTS section for my opinion and review only; the MY SUMMARY section explores the book as an unspoiled synopsis.

MY SUMMARY:

The girl’s top priority is losing weight. While passing billboards and chain restaurants, the brands are listed off in her mind: McDonalds. Taco Bell. Cracker Barrel. Dunkin’ Donuts. And so much more. As she passes the pharmaceutical aisle, she mentally lists the weight-loss pills and purchases several. Before leaving the store, Binary Star’s main character always remembers to flip through the celebrity magazines, devouring articles about Demi Moore’s “slim bod” and fast diet tricks. Her inner world revolves around becoming what society says is perfect.

(I really wish that I could have learned the main character’s name. But alas, that never happened.)

She has an alcoholic boyfriend who’s an expert at just one thing: being an asshole. You get to learn his name, though – John. John is a twenty-something who has never had a job in his life, depending solely on his parents to be financially stable. This gives him plenty of time to be a liquor-downing, deprecating jerk with violent tendencies.

She lives in New York City and goes to school; John lives in Chicago and frequently hooks up with a girl named Michelle. They’re a long-distance couple and visit each other periodically, often embarking on road trips. These never end well. A typical day in the couple’s life (when they’re together) consists of John punching someone while intoxicated, visiting strip clubs and bars, and him trying in vain to get her to eat something.

They learn about veganarchism and organizations such as the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. This becomes a staunch passion of John’s and is one of the issues that he’s most vocal about. Meanwhile, the girl is losing friends left and right because of her boyfriend’s volatile behavior and the eating disorder that’s an uncomfortable half-mystery to those around her. The consequences don’t just culminate in her poor health; they gradually turn much worse.

MY THOUGHTS:

Sprinkled around the dialogue are astronomical analogies; the main character desperately tries to relate almost every aspect of her life to what’s going on in space. She’s an astronomy student, after all; so she thinks about her mental illness, relationships, and society in terms of the galaxy’s status quo.

For non-astronomy students such as myself and a large portion of the population, these analogies seem excessive and (forgive me) yawn-inducing. Yes, I get it. Gravity. Mass. Binary Stars. Red Giant Star. White Dwarf Star. Black Holes.

But I’m not supposed to be entertained. I’m supposed to be wowed by the intense statement that’s being made. Binary Stars is an ambitious work, but I don’t think that Ms. Gerard quite has the skills to back her ideas up, at least not yet. This is her debut novel. I’m willing to give any second work of hers a chance. I didn’t enjoy Binary Star, and its organization (though intended to be artistically scattered) fell far too short. But this book has heart, and more importantly, it gives an authentic glimpse into the mind of a young anorexic woman in America.

Anyone who has had anorexia or bulimia will find Binary Star especially relatable. Young and idealistic readers should also pick this book up; it’s illuminating in its amateur observation of contemporary consumerism’s harsh impact.

“Gravity is how we fall together. / If you’re able to love, you can tell me what it means. / The way space-time curves around it. / Love is a black hole. / Undetectable except by the way it affects other bodies. / Invisible but strong. Inescapable. / You have a leather couch that I’ve slept on. You have a field; I have a field. / If you stopped talking, you’d fall asleep, John. / (The red behind your eyes.) / I know that about you.”

[Ms. Gerard wrote an autobiographical piece for The New York Times detailing her own experiences with anorexia. After reading this, it became clear to me that Binary Star is almost entirely based on the author’s own life, from the diet pills and magazines to the douchebag boyfriend and a lie about thyroid disease. There’s even an identical tear-filled scene in a closet, making an appearance in both the novel and her recounting of the past. However, I must say that I enjoyed Ms. Gerard’s writing much more in her article; but that comes down to more than a simple stylistic issue.]

This book was originally published on January 5th, 2015 by Two Dollar Radio.

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