Binary Star

By Sarah Gerard


Two Dollar Radio
January 2015

Reviewed by Veronica Popp


Sarah Gerard's Binary Star is a stunning, transformative debut novel about the vanity and true narcissism of living with an eating disorder. In support of her isolationist theme, Gerard wrote this novel encased in a trailer park, with little to eat herself. The entire novel is written sparsely, with alternating poetry and prose that is contrite, controlled and specific. The narrator is an astronomy student and teacher: "Everything has shimmer, including me and I am empty." Her goal is to be zeroed out—specifically, her legs, stomach and butt—and her obsession dominates her life. She is fanatical about her size and the space she occupies. Hollywood starlets are also a focal point in her pursuit of being skinny, and in her mind, her mass continually grows.

Gerard's story recalls Plath's line from "Lady Lazarus": "I eat men like air." The protagonist is eating "nothing by time." She survives on coffee, diet pills, Red Bull, and Adderall. She is the silent body, even purging silently to hide it from her emotionally abusive and alcoholic boyfriend, John. If a binary star is two stars circling around the same center of mass, it is addiction that is the frame in the lives of both the narrator and John. They are each other's sickness, so intertwined in each other's illnesses that they feed their own dependencies. They almost seem like the same person. The long-distance relationship with John is toxic; he is another element of her disease. She states, "I want you to hurt me. Please. I need it." She wants to connect and further degrade her body until she becomes nothing. Her accepted abuse by him is still not enough: "Don't be a fucking pussy. Make me hurt." Her lack of bodily awareness and connection causes her to seek out deep pain. His abuse of her supports her devaluation of self.

Her disorder causes her body to be uncontrolled; she shivers, shakes, and vomits. Her online "research" on dieting reads like a free verse poem of quick-fix cures: "7 Diet Tricks That Really Work. The 25 Best Diet Tricks of All Time. Retro Diet Tricks That Work." She gains pleasure and attention from John by refusing all sustenance near him. By reducing herself to nothing, she thinks she can finally find peace. If the person is political, then the starving of oneself is an act of protest. This is her private bodily act, viewable by everyone. She is asserting control in the uncontrollable digital world. She contends that starvation is a matter of privilege, unware of her space of privilege as a white middle class woman. Starvation causes her to disconnect with the students around her and forces her to fail. Her respect, pride, and dignity are non-existent. By placing herself in situations of high-stress, without food or nutrition, she sets herself up to fail, furthering her self-hatred and the feeling that she is not "worth it."

The only other male she speaks to is her mentor who, like John, is another unavailable male figure. Within her disorder, she seeks to project an image of perfection, light, purity, and magnetism that, in reality, is missing from her shivering, jolting body. Her search for perfection causes her to emotionally dissolve. Her body is useless. While food may not appeal to her, John treats her like a piece of meat. The juxtaposition and animalization of an electrocuted fox with our narrator's growing consciousness of being sexually used by John is stunning: "I want to reach through the screen and stop them. I've never heard an animal make that sound before. That night, John pushes me down. He cuffs my writs together."

John lives a Peter Pan lifestyle, never growing up. He devolves so much across the novel. At one point he wants to build a tree house for himself with his parent's money. A particular interesting section comes when John calls the Grand Canyon, "a gash. A wound." Considering that vagina, in Latin, means a sheath for a sword and that John considers the Grand Canyon an opening, it reveals his misogynistic critical impulses. The narrator's relationship with him finally ends, but the narrator's connection to animal liberation continues. Upon reaching her goal weight of 85 pounds, she does not disappear. Reaching her target, death looms before her. She is finally without body. Then her body speaks! She commits arson and flees.

With a strong central theme and vibrant characters, Binary Star is an exquisite treatise on life with an eating disorder, exposing all the post-feminist consumerist wants of a popular society.