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By Sarah Gerard
Two Dollar Radio
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
Earlier this year I had an opportunity to interview Sarah Gerard for CCLaP's podcast while she was in town, which unfortunately I didn't get to do because I was so busy with the computer coding bootcamp I was in; and that's a shame, because now that I've finally had a chance to read her novel Binary Star six months later, I've come to realize how good it is, and it makes me realize that we would've had a lot of interesting things to talk about while she was in Chicago. But that said, before anything else, we have to talk about a big caveat right away that may turn you off this book altogether, which is that it's a deep character study of the kind of intolerable hipster couple you meet so often when living in a big city: you know, where he's an alcoholic pill-popper and she has an eating disorder, and they can't really stand each other but they're too morally weak to break up, so instead they just live lives of misery that then bleed all over their exasperated friends on a daily basis, with such a huge sense of middle-class entitlement and white privilege that you may not be able to see around it to the actual story on the other side. (It's telling, I think, that the plot's framework is based around a cross-country trip the couple is taking together, entirely funded by the boyfriend's enabling suburban parents simply for the purpose of the couple "finding themselves," and that they engage in such stereotypical behavior as camping in the woods instead of getting hotel rooms to save money, but then blowing a hundred bucks in an hour at a strip club on a whim. If that's not the very definition of "entitled worthless hipsters who you want to just hit in the fucking face as hard as you can possibly swing your fist," nothing is.)
Now me, I don't mind stories about people like these, as long as they're done right like Gerard has done here -- scathing, self-deprecatory, and with a kind of poetry to the prose that almost blends genres, Binary Star has all the insightful self-loathing of a Dostoevsky novel, a heartbreaking portrait of two people simply born without all the abilities needed to succeed in a modern world; but if this isn't your cup of tea, you need to stay far, far away from this book, or else risk the chance of setting this paperback on fire out of sheer frustration about a third of the way through. Not for those who like their prose quick and smooth, this is a halting read that gains much from the slowness Gerard has purposely inserted into the style, the kind of novel that will be loved by those who also love slow-moving European cinema of the 1970s.
Out of 10: 8.5, or 9.0 for those with a high tolerance for stories about hipster losers