>>Finally got around to it: April 2015
You haven’t eaten for hours. How are you awake? How can you drive?
I’m always awake. I’m always driving toward something.
Right now, I’m driving a line toward the void.
There is work to be done, but I won’t do it. I’ll circle my apartment elliptically burning calories from the kitchen to the bathroom.
I’ll eat a cup of grapes and purge, eat a cup of grapes and purge, eat and purge.
Fall into my hunger but never reach it.
Orbit its atmosphere.
Objects that fall into orbit around Earth can’t stay there forever. They must come down sometime.
These objects experience gravity but acceleration cancels gravity. Therefore, they are weightless.
They orbit for months or years, but without periodic bursts of energy, they start to slip.
Falling to Earth, burning up on the way down.
We never see them hit the ground.
Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star is a love story of mutually assured destruction. The nameless narrator, a young woman working as a student teacher studying astronomy, is in a troubling, long-distance relationship with a young man named John; he’s an alcoholic, she’s anorexic (bulimic, primarily).
As the novel begins, the two of them are on a road trip together. Their weaknesses are visible to one another—veritable beacons, to put it mildly—and so they promise to put themselves in check: for the duration of the trip, he won’t drink and she won’t purge. How long this truce of sorts lasts (or doesn’t) is indicative of the hard truth at the core of their relationship: they are their weaknesses; they have allowed their twinned self-destructive tendencies to affect each other—to devour each other.
What becomes clear very early on is that neither one of them wants to, or is willing to talk about their problems. Their weaknesses are crutches, and each is the other’s blockade—without them, they would be forced to actually be honest with one another. Gerard uses the metaphor of the binary star—of two stars destroying one another—to really drive this point home as, over time, the narrator’s obsession with achieving her goal weight of a deadly eighty-five pounds overwhelms her external influences and all possible outlets for support. And as the novella nears its conclusion, she turns increasingly inward, focused on just the one thing that matters—the thing that she believes, if achieved, will suddenly fill her with worth, or a fleeting sense of accomplishment.
While destruction is at the core of Binary Star, it is also a story of bargains—bargains made with a partner, with no intention of being fulfilled due to the bargains made with the self, which supersede all others. These self-made bargains take the form of never-ending one-sided conversations, wherein every piece of food is quantified, judged, and rationalized, with only the barest of necessities making it past one’s lips. The narrator survives, seemingly, on a diet of Adderall, Hydroxycut, and Red Bull; she clings to veganism (and later, veganarchism) as an ideal on which to suspend reason, to offer up as an explanation to anyone, friend or family, who questions the apparent changes to her body; she weighs herself five times a day, stands in front of a mirror, pees, and then looks in the mirror again, turning in profile, to see if in urinating, that unsightly, very human bulge around her midsection has suddenly vanished.
It’s in these details and so many others like them—these conversations and bargains and even occasional arguments with the self—that Binary Star succeeds. As someone who’s struggled with the constant presence of anorexia in my life for over fifteen years, Gerard’s truncated, bladed prose carves an emotional and very truthful swath over its unbelievably tight 166 pages. The narrator’s journey begins beautifully, with a section composed entirely of slightly abstracted poetic verse, before properly introducing readers to its two leads. It ends, however, with what seems like a dark parallel to the opening segment, as broken, nonsensical, somewhat paranoid abstraction—a reflection of a starved mind, a nutrient-skewed individual prone to erratic, dangerous behaviour. The evolution is stark and unflinching.
Several times this year I’ve come out citing my lack of love for narratives eschewing dialogue tags. Again, however, I’m forced to recognize the effectiveness of said tactic. The sense of distance created by the lack of quotation marks throughout helps to portray the narrator’s increasingly anxious, disordered mind. It becomes difficult at times to discern who is saying what, and which conversations are actually happening and which exist solely in her mind. In this way, the eating disorder itself becomes the novella’s unspoken third lead—it takes over, subjugates the narrator’s rational mind, and charts a new course all its own.
As the novella winds down and our narrator gets closer and closer to achieving her goal weight, and as her mind set devolves in tandem, she begins to see herself as shining, though it’s not light coming from within her but the light of the rest of the world passing through her as if she were translucent. She’s not a star; she’s collapsed, a black hole rapidly being swallowed by her own compulsions. I’m not entirely sure where her story ends, but I suspect that’s the point—in reaching her goal, she has in the process lost or destroyed, or aided in destroying, everything around her. To carry the metaphor a step further, her story concludes at the event horizon of the disorder. What’s on the other side remains a mystery.
This is a brutal read, one I related to far more than I anticipated. With a careful, attentive approach to the small quantifications, calculations, and justifications that, in my experience, make up so much of the anorexic experience, Gerard’s Binary Star is an intimate, much-needed window into a world I wish more people took the time to investigate and understand.