By the time we meet her, there’s not much left to know about the nameless narrator of Sarah Gerard’s debut novel Binary Star except that she has an eating disorder.
She hates her body, too flabby compared to those of the celebrities who condemn her from magazine covers. She eats and purges. She substitutes coffee and Red Bull for sleep. She stays in a relationship (and goes on a road trip) with an alcoholic and indifferent boyfriend who feels passion only for vegan activism. She counts every calorie: “I eat four banana chips and regret it because they’re cooked in coconut oil and sugar. I feel like a failure.” She wants to punish herself through painful sex and food that stings her insides.
We also see that she’s studying education and astronomy, hoping—or having once hoped—to be a science teacher. She occasionally flashes back to her practice lessons, in which she describes how stars move, burn, and fade away. Burning stars have been used as metaphors for burning people countless times before, and Gerard makes the point bluntly here, but it still works.
Ultimately, this slim, tragic, beautiful novel is powered not by its wisps of character or plot but by its intimate portrayal of a self-hatred that threatens the narrator’s sense of self and reality.
“I pull the sheets over myself and stare at the dark, I stare at nothing,” she writes. “I pant. I’m falling through space. I fall through a void without coordinates.”
–Available January 13th from Two Dollar Radio. 176 pages. $16