Binary Star tells the heartbreaking tale of two lovers: one an unnamed astronomy student suffering from bulimia and the other a barely functioning alcoholic. With distance a major factor in their already struggling relationship, the narrator and John take a cross country trip to spend time together searching for truth, hoping to avoid necessary intervention.
Sarah Gerard has written one of the most difficult books I have encountered in a while. It’s not only a difficult book to review, but it’s a difficult book to swallow. The book is narrated by a young woman about to begin her career as an astronomy teacher. While she is very good at what she does, her sickness begins to govern her way of being. She is determined to be everything society says she is supposed to be: smart, thin, sexy and in love; setting down a path toward inevitable self destruction. Her boyfriend, John, adds fuel to the fire by encouraging her sickness with his inability to control his own. John’s love of Corona and fist fights creates an environment no couple should have to live in.
Binary Star is one of the realist works of fiction I have ever read. Gerard beautifully utilizes first person stream of consciousness, in the form of lyrical prose, to put our narrator’s thoughts on display:
Beauty can be tricked into being where it is not.
It is naught.
It is not the past. Because the longer I live in time, the less I believe in the past.
Gerard, through her writing, relentlessly makes clear that her characters care as much about the audience as they do about themselves and it’s absolutely haunting; Binary Star, reads more like a diary than it does a novel.
And that’s what gets me. This book is so overwhelmingly heart-breaking that it feels too personal to critique. Themes of mental illness, eating disorders, alcoholism, spousal abuse and social anxiety all come crashing down in one fell swoop, sending the reader reeling.
And that’s the point.
Gerard fills 172-pages with more than anyone can handle. At first, it was too much. While reading, I tried to think about the book as a criticism of mass media, which it is, but it’s also much more. Three or so hours upon completion and still having no idea what to make of it, this reader finally realized that that is the point. Gerard has masterfully written a story that creates an understanding that we aren’t meant to understand.
8.5 out of 10: Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star is heartbreaking. Written in haunting lyrical prose, it’s a must read for anyone with an interest in mental health. Endlessly thought provoking.